Another special meeting of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District Board called for Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 25, ended with “no reportable action” out of a closed session … but the Fire Chief said he was ‘dismissed’ later that night.
The board met in a 1:30 p.m. session at the board room in Riverbank and, despite an outpouring of support for the chief at the meeting, indications are that the chief has been placed on leave and given a termination date of Nov. 25.
“I was humbled by the turn out at the two meetings they hastily threw together and attempted to remove me from my position,” Weigele wrote in an email sent out to a number of firefighting colleagues, city, county and legislative officials early Thursday morning.
Weigele added that, although those attending the meeting were told there was no action taken, he disputes that point.
“In fact the truth is they did make a decision and take action, the attorney for the District requested a private meeting with me immediately afterwards,” Weigele went on to explain, indicating that he was given until Friday morning (Oct. 27) to resign, with severance, or be terminated.
“No reason was given for this termination,” he wrote in the email, “only that my last day would be November 25th, 2017 whether I resigned or not.”
Weigele said he also received a letter from the board placing him on administrative leave.
Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Board President Susan Zanker, when contacted about the issue, referred questions to District Counsel Christopher Diaz; he did not respond to inquiries from The Leader.
Zanker did provide a ‘Public Media Statement’ put out by Diaz, as District Counsel on Thursday afternoon, responding to Weigele’s earlier email.
“The SCFPD has received numerous inquiries regarding an email sent to a wide audience by Mr. Weigele at 5:04 Thursday morning. The SCFPD Board is confident that our constituents understand there is usually very little the Board can or should say publicly about personnel issues,” the statement reads. “With that in mind, we can say that the Board has taken great pains to comply with all applicable public meeting laws, personnel laws, and contract provisions. We can also say that many of the claims in the 5:04 a.m. email are inaccurate. Beyond that, however, we have no comment regarding this personnel matter.”
Weigele had served in the post for roughly five months and came to Stanislaus Consolidated with more than 25 years in the fire service, including positions in Arizona and the Redding, California area. He is an ‘at will’ employee, which allows the board to terminate him at will, with no reasons for dismissal necessary.
Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien said he would have preferred to see both sides work it out but isn’t sure that was achievable. Still, he said the apparent board action dismissing the chief leaves the district in limbo once again.
“Now they have to go through for another selection process and if it is not known what has happened who is going to come here and apply?” O’Brien noted. “That is my biggest issue. They haven’t had the best of luck with fire chiefs lately.”
The chief prior to Weigele – Matt Daly – left after eight months, resigning the post and returning to Illinois.
Many attending the special sessions in the past couple of weeks also raised concerns about violations of the Brown Act, though District Counsel also defended the board in that regard.
“Sometimes reports happen immediately; sometimes they are to be delayed because various other steps must occur before it is legally appropriate to report out,” Diaz wrote. “We believe the “no reportable action” from closed session on October 25 was legally appropriate…”
Diaz also indicated in the statement that the board does not want to engage in “the distraction of a public back-and-forth” over personnel issues.
“We remain committed to serving the District’s best interests and to supporting the District’s employees who are doing their best to come to work every day and provide excellent service to this community,” Diaz wrote. “Particularly in light of this year’s fire season conditions, they have plenty to do and deserve our support more than ever.”
Weigele, in his mass email, contends the board is “not interested” in the welfare of the communities it serves.
He said, however, that he was grateful for the time he spent as fire chief for this area, citing the support he has received.
“This short time I have served as your Fire Chief has been a great experience for me, I have grown to love this fire department, the people who serve in it, and the communities we serve,” Weigele wrote. “I have been welcomed and made to feel like I am part of this firefighting family from you and from our neighbors that we work so close with and that truly shows the incredible culture in this area.”