Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mariposa County Grand Jury Look at Issues Within the Mariposa County Fire Department

July 11, 2014
Sierra Sun Times

One of the items the 2013-2014 Mariposa Grand Jury looked into was issues within the Mariposa County Fire Department.
The following is from their report:

 Prompted by a complaint we received alleging financial irregularities, we conducted an oversight investigation of the Mariposa County Fire Department.
We interviewed all Mariposa County Fire Department staff employed during 2013, including the Chief, although he had submitted his resignation due to retirement. We did not interview the new Chief or any employee hired in 2014.
We reviewed financial documentation supplied by the complainant.
We reviewed the department’s current policies and procedures documents.
During our interviews it was obvious there were tensions within the department. More than one employee stated the department was not an ethical place to work, with some commenting that they felt lied to, manipulated, and in one case threatened and intimidated. There are significantly more volunteers than paid staff positions, and there have been conflicts both between volunteers and between volunteers and paid staff. For example, one paid staff employee was allowed to also serve as a fire fighting volunteer, which cause conflicts with other volunteers (the staff person eventually resigned as a volunteer). When the Chief was out of the County, the conflicts appeared to intensify. During one major fire when the Chief was absent, there were issues regarding chain of command, with two staff members both taking leadership roles and disagreeing in a number of ways. This caused issues with both staff and volunteers.
There appears to be some financial issues with the Department. When another agency requests County fire suppression resources during a non-county incident, the County receives compensation for equipment, staff, and volunteers. However, in some instances County resources were dispatched to incidents without proper authorization from the responsible agency, and reimbursements for volunteers were billed at improper rates. Another financial issue involved a grant-funded staff position. The position was funded on an hourly basis and the Chief requested changing it to a salaried position, but the request was denied. Following that decision, the staff person and Chief elected to treat the position as though it were salaried, resulting in timesheets that were inaccurately prepared and submitted.
We reviewed the Department’s policies and procedures and found some were extremely out of date, with some going back to the 1980s. Most of the policies and procedures address fire equipment, with few addressing office policies. Some of the procedures were submitted 90 days after our original interviews and were evidence of a work in progress.
The Fire Chief reports directly to the Board Supervisors and feels having five bosses impacts decision making efficiency.
1.   A hostile work environment was created in this small department.
2.   Morale at the time of our interviews was extremely low.
3.   Policies and Procedures are not comprehensive or current.
4.   Incorrect volunteer pay rates caused additional effort and review, and opened up the potential for a state audit.
5.   There may be financial consequences for equipment and personnel sent to an incident without proper authorization.
6.   One employee was not reporting their hours accurately.
7.   Chain of command issues impacted staff and departmental efficiency.
1.   Policy and Procedures should be updated on a regular basis, and should address proper chain of command and procedures to resolve employee conflicts.
2.   Staff should be trained on contacting the Human Resources Department for conflict resolution.
3.   Contracts for providing assistance to outside agencies should be reviewed before sending equipment and staff to assist with outside agency incidents.
4.   The difference between hourly and salaried employees should be reviewed to insure logs and timesheets are accurately kept to support reported hours.
We require the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors to respond to all findings and recommendations.

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