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DOWNEY − After months of heated political and legal tug-of-wars, Downey residents will decide this Tuesday whether they support or oppose Measure B — a controversial ballot initiative that may alter the future of police and fire services in Downey.
The special election on June 3 might just be a capstone on the pernicious feud between the city and the Downey Firemen’s Association, which collected more than 12,000 signatures last year to place Measure B on the ballot.
Fire union officials insist Downey is in violation of its own charter by hiring outside jailers, exposing taxpayers to potential lawsuits. The measure will protect the city and still allow residents to voice an opinion on police and fire services, they say.
City officials, however, say the election campaign is just a means to push the city closer to contracting county fire service.
The amendment, in fact, would delete the section in the city charter requiring the city to hire its own police and fire departments. It also deletes a requirement for a city-wide, two-thirds advisory vote before police or fire services can be contracted out.
Essentially, a “no” vote keeps everything the way it is, and a “yes” on Measure B eliminates the current wording, allowing the city council to make changes to the city’s police and fire departments without voter approval.
Under the current city charter, unless 66 percent of residents approve contracting police or fire services, the Downey City Council cannot vote on such a change. In 1998, the two-thirds advisory vote was added to the city charter, overwhelmingly approved by 85 percent of resident voters.
Although the Downey Police Officers’ Association finds no issues with the city charter, the fire union has been faithfully working to eliminate the two-thirds voting requirement for the last 24 months.
Arguably, the dispute between the city and the fire union began when officials took a fire engine out of service nearly two years ago as part of strict cuts to reach a balanced budget. The cuts prompted a request from the fire union that city officials look into the possibility of contracting fire and emergency medical services from L.A. County.
While fire union officials argued the merits of the county’s regional approach to EMS, a feasibility study on county service in Downey left members of the city council unimpressed. Noting the higher cost and reduced city control when contracting fire services, Councilman Mario Guerra said at the time that county service would also mean fewer firefighters on active duty in Downey.
Even though the fire engine was later restored due to a $1.8 million federal grant, the damage was seemingly done. Last June, the union voted “no confidence” in fire chief Lonnie Croom and months later filed a tort claim against the city, alleging ongoing retaliation, harassment and discrimination.
Nonetheless, fire union officials say Measure B is not about adopting county fire service, but about changing the language of the city charter to ensure quality emergency medical services.
“We’re hoping the city eliminates the two-thirds voter approval and replaces it with a majority vote by the people,” Steve Davis, president of the firefighters’ union, said last year. “The city is in violation of its own charter. How far do they have to go, breaking their own rules before you step in and change the rules?”
For more information on Measure B, visit Downey’s election website at downeyca.org/gov/clerk/election.asp or call the city clerk’s office at (562) 904-7280.
Published: May 29, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 07