Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District embattled Fire Chief Steve Mayotte has been placed on paid administrative leave, effective Friday, Feb. 15. Officials are tight lipped regarding the reason, citing personnel confidentiality.
The move came after a regular district board meeting on Feb. 14 where the board voted three to one in closed session to place the veteran fire administrator on leave. Board Director Charles Turner dissented on the vote, citing that the action was too premature.
“Effective Feb. 15, 2013 at 5 p.m., Chief Mayotte was placed on paid administrative leave,” said Stanislaus Consolidated Battalion Chief Paul Spani on Friday.
When questioned further as to the circumstances, duration, or cause of the action, Spani declined to comment citing departmental regulations on disclosure of personnel matters.
In July 2012 the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (with its Station 36 in Riverbank) entered into a contract with the Oakdale City Fire Department and the Oakdale Fire Protection District, forming a merged headquarters providing management services between the three agencies. The restructuring allowed the implementation of a training and operations chief and an administrative and personnel chief. With the agreement, Oakdale gained the benefit of 24/7 battalion chief officer coverage.
Oakdale City Manager Brian Whitemyer said he was not told the details of Mayotte’s leave by the Stanislaus Consolidated Board of Directors.
At the Tuesday, Feb 19 Oakdale City Council meeting, Deputy Chief Michael Wapnowski was announced as assuming interim chief duties during Mayotte’s absence.
On Monday, Feb. 25, District Board Director and Vice President Dave Woods said there was no pending investigation into any of the circumstances surrounding the action. He said he could not comment any further.
Sources associated with the City of Oakdale and Stanislaus Consolidated have alluded that the reason for the leave is Mayotte’s friction with employees and the firefighters’ union, Stanislaus Consolidated Firefighters Local 3399.
Mayotte has been a chief with Stanislaus Consolidated since 2005. In recent years he has been besieged with a slew of labor-related issues ranging from a number of lawsuits, an employment board (PERB) ruling against him from an official complaint from the union, and a 2012 Civil Grand Jury investigation.
In May 2012, because of Mayotte’s past labor relation rifts and the possibility of him leading the department after a merger, the Oakdale City Firefighters Association questioned if the city management had “considered the risk in turning over the city department to a leader that has been involved with so much litigation.”
In 2012 the Civil Grand Jury looked into a complaint alleging the “dereliction of duty” by Mayotte with improper business practices, poor financial practices, failure to comply with accepted accounting practices, and discrimination against the union and its members.
The Grand Jury found the scope of responsibility given to the fire chief was far too much for one person to handle and could lead to conflicts of interest and ineffective, biased decision making.
The firefighters union also brought a matter before the state’s public employee relations board (PERB) for Mayotte disallowing meetings to be held at the fire station, denying time off to the union’s president to attend a Riverbank City Council meeting in November 2010, and no longer conferring in good faith.
At the time Mayotte was in the midst of three other grievances by department personnel.
In its ruling in 2012, the PERB board “… found that the District discriminated/retaliated against, and interfered, in violation” of the union contract and that Mayotte interfered with employee rights. The employment board found that elements of discrimination were present and ordered that a discrimination complaint be issued on the charge.
PERB also criticized Mayotte and the fire district for not “meeting and conferring” in good faith.
At its Monday, Feb. 25 meeting the district’s personnel committee gave an indication of the duration of Mayotte’s absence by authorizing Interim Chief Wapnowski the go ahead to move forward with conducting “chief’s interviews” to fill vacant positions including an inside position of engineer and a vacant firefighter position.