The ongoing conflict between the Santee Firefighters Association and Fire Chief Robert Leigh should be resolved in the next few months, City Councilmember Rob McNelis told U-T San Diego in a recent article.
The SFFA concluded a vote of no confidence in Fire Chief Robert Leigh in July, which came on the heels of months of negotiations with City Council on the staffing future of the Fire Department amid a tight budget. The letter explaining Santee Firefighters Association (SFFA) vote of no confidence included a call for the dismissal of Leigh.
"Despite our efforts, the Fire Chief has continued to advocate for reduced services, has not adequately addressed our safety concerns, and has continued to undervalue the level of service that we provide our citizens," wrote Harley Wallace, President of the SFFA.
A closed session meeting of the Santee City Council concerning the friction between firefighters and their chief was held Dec. 17. Councilmember John Minto said the only way for the council to legally talk with the city manager about the job performance of the fire chief was to hold a performance evaluation of the city manager, because the city manager is in charge of hiring and firing city personnel.
McNelis told U-T San Diego that the city has come up with a plan that they believe all parties will be comfortable with.
“In the near future everybody’s issues will all be solved,” McNelis said.
McNelis told U-T San Diego that part of the plan is already in place, a new rule that will prioritize hiring from within, rather than outside, as was the case with the current chief. Another piece of the plan would implement three battalion chiefs with fire crews at all times.
He said the city and firefighters should come to a resolution on the matter by April.
"Concerns are still there with the fire chief; our position hasn't changed," Wallace told Santee Patch shortly after the closed meeting. " We hope this is a sign they're working to some sort of resolution... it's best if the city and chief part ways."
The article also revealed that the city is currently recruiting new firefighters.