The Lathrop Manteca Fire District has come under scrutiny on social media over the course of the last two weeks after its former leader was voted onto the advisory committee that oversees Measure C funding – of which the district benefits.
While the meeting where former Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely was appointed by a 4-1 vote to the Measure C Oversight Committee turned into a political and legal firestorm for other reasons – resulting in a member of the Lathrop City Council filing for a restraining order against Neely, his wife Rozelle, and Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore – the focus of the online criticism has been on the district’s use of apprenticeship training funds to attend a training session at a swanky Napa resort and participate in all of the amenities that the site had to offer.
In a post to the district’s social media accounts on Thursday, the district attempted to distance itself from Neely’s tenure with the organization – the retreat occurred while he was in charge – and move towards an era of transparency and renewed public confidence in their operations and leadership.
They also offered some insights into Neely’s departure from the district – in which he was unexpectedly placed on administrative leave and then ultimately retired.
“Earlier this year, the District received complaints made against the former Fire Chief and other District personnel. In response to the complaints, the District placed the Fire Chief on administrative leave and retained two, third-party investigators to independently investigate the complaints, including a thorough inquiry into all expenses charged to the district’s Cal-Card during the strategic planning and mandated training in Napa and the subsequent reimbursement of those expenses with Cal-JAC funds.
“The Fire Chief retired from the district at the conclusion of the investigations and an interim Fire Chief was appointed.”
The organization that reimbursed the expenses – which totaled more than $25,000 and included massages, dinner with alcoholic beverages, and personal care items for sale at the resort – was the California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee.
And how the district uses those cards and how it allocates the Cal-JAC funding that it receives is something that the district has been in discussions with Lathrop Manteca Firefighters Association 4317 about over the last several months – reaching an agreement on a list of best practices that will be followed moving forward, according to the release.
While special districts like Lathrop Manteca have drawn the ire of the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury in the past for an ongoing lack of transparency, the district pointed out that it had recently received a District Transparency Certificate of Excellence from the Special District Leadership Foundation in the release, and has recently become a registered agency with the Center for Public Safety Excellence and begun the path towards national accreditation.
The district is also in the process of beginning an open recruitment process for a permanent replacement for fire chief – the interim position is currently occupied by Josh Capper – and plans are in the works to engage stakeholders for their input into the overall process.
A copy of the release can be found by visiting the Lathrop Manteca Fire District’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lathropmantecafire.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.