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French Camp-McKinley fire board working on Grand Jury suggestions

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POSTED June 22, 2011 1:58 a.m.

FRENCH CAMP — The French Camp-McKinley Fire District Board of Directors has already started implementing the changes recommended by the San Joaquin County Grand Jury, the board chairman and vice chairman said on Monday.

According to the scathing remarks by the Grand Jury, in its 2010-2011 reports, all of the complaints filed by an unnamed citizen alleging misconduct within the district “were found to be true.” The exception was the part of the complaint concerning the “removal or destruction of personnel records.”

“We have taken into consideration all the recommendations of the Grand Jury and we’re trying to correct them to the best of our ability,” said Chairman Brandon Burlingame who was appointed to his seat six months ago after winning the election in November 2010.

“I think it’s a fair Grand Jury’s report. There’s a lot of issues with the older board that this new board is trying everything it can to do that’s legal and correct to fix it,” he added.

“I’m not saying we’re perfect, but we’re pretty much satisfied” with the way the district is working on the Grand Jury’s recommendations, said  Vice Chairman Bob Pico who was chairman of the board until four months ago and has more than 30 years of service in the fire district, from being a reserve to working full-time as a firefighter until he retired with the rank of fire captain.

After the elections on Nov. 2 last year, the newly constituted fire board named its youngest and newest elected board member, Brandon Burlingame, as the new chairman. Rounding out the five panel are Gorman Houbein who was appointed to finish the term of Albert Pagnucci who resigned in July of last  year, Doug Beckwith who was not scheduled for re-election, and Serina Lee who also came on board after being voted in November.

The complaint, filed by an unnamed citizen included allegations of “misconduct within the French Camp-McKinley Fire District.”

According to the same complaint, the fire board “initiated an investigation into the Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief. The Fire Chief was subsequently demoted from his position. During the course of the investigation, the Grand Jury received additional complaints alleging: unlawful audio taping of a meeting, removal or destruction of personnel records, and Brown Act violations.”

The fire district board of directors is required to file a response in writing to the Grand Jury recommendations focusing on each finding. The response has to be submitted to the presiding judge of the Superior Court of San Joaquin County by Sept. 20, 2011.

Below are the recommendations made by the Grand Jury addressing the complaints filed:

1. The fire board must develop policies and procedures for issuing an investigation that do not violate government codes.

2. The board also must resolve the investigation of the new fire chief, Paul Tualla, and former fire chief Richard Rallios who retired in June of 2010. Tualla was assistant fire chief to Rallios before he was appointed chief. The Grand Jury is mandating the fire board to have this issue resolved within the next four months. The report’s recommendation added, “For the good of the department, the Board must conclude this investigation quickly.”

3. The fire board is also being directed to conduct Brown Act training on an annual basis or within two months of the election of new members, and that basic training on common Roberts  Rules of Order be implemented. The Brown Act is the law governing open meetings conducted by elected officials.

4. The board is also directed to “develop a policy mandating notification of recording to all participants in meetings.”

The fourth recommendation relates to reports and allegations made against former board chairman Bill Smith who has been accused of secretly recording interviews with district staff.

Even though it was not included in the Grand Jury recommendations, Pico said, “we’re also working on cleaning things up and re-testing all the firefighters.”

Burlingame, a former resident of Manteca and a graduate of East Union, said he and his board are confident that they will be able to meet the Grand Jury’s deadline to submit their response to the county judge.

“I think we’ll be able to make the deadline because we have already discussed a lot of the issues,” he said.

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