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Upheaval at Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District as chief waits to be fired

Future of Stanislaus Consolidated fire chief is uncertain

45 people came out to support the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Chief Rick Weigele at a special meeting Wednesday.
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45 people came out to support the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Chief Rick Weigele at a special meeting Wednesday.

Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Chief Rick Weigele said Tuesday he expected to be terminated by the district’s board this week.

Wednesday, about 45 people attended a special board meeting in Riverbank to support Weigele, who was the subject of closed-door performance reviews Friday and this week, despite starting the job only five months ago.

Among those supporting him were Modesto Fire Chief Alan Ernst, Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer, firefighters and officials from Riverbank and other fire agencies.

Wednesday’s agenda listed two closed-door items: a performance evaluation of the fire chief and “public employee discipline/dismissal.”

Some speakers urged the board to keep Weigele, who would be the third chief to leave the district in two years.

“I see a lot of support here,” Riverbank Councilman Cal Campbell told board members. “I would ask you to think very hard about what you are doing. You are going to get a reputation that no one can work with you.”

The board met behind closed doors for half an hour and took no action.

When asked about the show of support for Weigele, board President Susan Zanker had no comment.

District leaders have not said why they’re reviewing Weigele’s performance only five months after he began work in June. The 26-year fire service veteran was a fire captain, paramedic and division chief for fire agencies in Arizona and was working for a fire service near Redding when hired by Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District.

Weigele followed Matt Daly, who was chosen in a national search and worked as Stanislaus Consolidated’s chief for eight months. Daly resigned in March and moved back to Illinois after a performance evaluation. The last full-time chief to spend more than a year with Stanislaus Consolidated was Randall Bradley, whose tenure was 20 months before he took a job as Tracy’s fire chief in November 2015.

Local officials, who said they’re impressed with Weigele, suggested that the board work through any conflicts with him.

“I have been nothing but impressed with Chief Weigele,” Ernst said.

Whitemyer suggested the board bring in a third-party consultant to deal with the personnel issue.

“If there is something so terrible that he has done, let’s find out what it is,” Winnie Mullins of Valley Home said. “We have a man here that a lot of places would love to have.”

According to another speaker, Weigele was willing to waive his privacy rights and air the personnel issues in public.

Board President Susan Zanker told the audience that board directors valued their comments, were taking notes and were engaged. It wasn’t clear Wednesday what the district’s next step will be in dealing with the chief.

Other local agencies have a keen interest in Stanislaus Consolidated and decisions made by its appointed board, because of the district’s major role in emergency response in the county.

Weigele sat a table during the open part of Wednesday’s meeting and mingled with people outside the board room during the closed session.

After the board took no action, Weigele said he hopes to remain in the post. “It is difficult,” he said. “I told the labor group and the community I would stay.”

Weigele and board members have evidently disagreed about their respective roles in managing the fire agency. “They have an agenda that is different than what I was hired for,” Weigele said. “I came here to be a fire chief and not a puppet.”

Shawn Ehrenberg, president of Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Fighters Local 3399, said board members are too involved in watching over the day-to-day operations.

It’s also suggested that board members have pushed for disciplinary action against employees without solid evidence of wrongdoing. “They have agendas and vendettas against certain employees in this department and want to use me to punish them,” Weigele said.

Board Director Dave Woods declined to respond to those comments before Wednesday’s meeting. “I don’t know where they are getting that information,” he said.

Woods would not confirm if the board was intent on firing the chief. “We are trying to resolve the issues with him,” Woods said. “It is up to him.”

Different local agencies are responsible for appointing members of the five-member district board, which has one vacancy. Riverbank and Waterford each make one appointment. County supervisors choose a board member from Empire and two public members at large.

Stanislaus Consolidated provides fire protection in Riverbank, Oakdale, east Modesto, Empire, Waterford, La Grange and Hickman. It also has shared resources arrangements with Modesto Fire Department and other cities.

“It is critical that we have stable leadership at Consolidated,” Oakdale’s Whitemyer said. “They are critical to fire service in Stanislaus County. We need to have stability at the top.”

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16

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