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Boise fire chief candidate faced no-confidence vote from union in current role; Captain says it was ‘maybe premature’

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One of the two finalists for Boise Fire Chief was the subject of a vote of no confidence by the fire union in his department earlier this year, but a union spokesman now says the vote was “maybe premature.”

In May, the Local 188 union representing the firefighters in Richmond, California under Fire Chief Adrian Sheppard voted 71 to 4 to signal they did not have confidence in his leadership. Nineteen members of the fire department testified against Sheppard at a Richmond City Council meeting on June 2, according to the meeting minutes. 

Fire Captain Jason Flaum and spokesman for Local 188 said the vote of no confidence was powered by frustration at the low staffing levels  the department, aging buildings, pressure to cut overtime and some personnel disputes. But,at he said after reflecting back on the vote he acknowledged Sheppard was placed in “an impossible environment” by city council and the issue could have been resolved differently. 

[Boise Mayor Lauren McLean asks for fire chief’s resignation]

“If we voted again today, we most likely would not vote for no confidence,” Flaum, a 23 year veteran of the department, said. “It was the world record of bad timing and horrible circumstances.”

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A spokesman for Mayor Lauren McLean did not reply to a request for comment.

Sheppard took the helm of the Richmond Fire Department in December 2014 after rising through the ranks at the Oakland Fire Department following a stint in the U.S. Air Force. In an email Monday, he said he was disappointed by the no-confidence vote, but remains committed to working with the rank and file members of the department to resolve disputes. 

“It is the case that as fire chief, sometimes tough and unpopular decisions need to be made given the need to balance fiscal constraints and challenges with continuing to provide high-quality emergency services to our community,” he said. “While we may not always agree on outcomes, I remain committed to transparency and cooperation.”

A struggling department

Interviews with Flaum and Richmond Vice Mayor Nathaniel Bates showed a department struggling with numerous issues. Flaum said the City of Richmond went through a major staffing cut in 2004, which the department never recovered from due to the loss of institutional knowledge. He also said the most modern fire stations in the city date back to the early 1970s, and growth in calls for service has rapidly outpaced the department of less than 100 staffers’ ability to respond. 

Bates, the only member of the Richmond City Council or the Mayor of Richmond to respond to BoiseDev.com’s inquiry, also said Sheppard was facing an uphill battle in managing the department. He said Richmond Fire Department staffers have been “playing games” with the city by reporting injuries late in their career to get on disability to avoid income taxes and reporting high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to get payouts. 

He said Sheppard was unpopular with the union because he put pressure on the department to reduce overtime and “do their jobs.” Bates alleged racism could be a reason for some of the opposition to Sheppard. 

“I found him to be very professional,” Bates said. “I’d hate to see him leave because we need someone like that in that capacity.”

Flaum said since the vote of no confidence the Richmond City Manager started mediation between Sheppard and the Local 188, which has resulted in better teamwork and cooperation. He said Richmond firefighters have good relationships with many firefighters in Boise who have moved to the area or they have met at conferences held in the Treasure Valley so they do not want a fire chief they do not approve of leading the Boise Fire Department. 

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He said he has had multiple phone calls with the leadership of Boise’s fire union about the vote of no confidence for Sheppard in the past week.

“We are not going to send damaged goods to them,” Flaum said. “We felt confident if Chief Sheppard wanted to leave we would not trash him. We would be ok with him leading the Boise Fire Department. We’re not going to double cross our brothers like that just to get rid of someone.”

Margaret Carmel
Margaret is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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