Ballot initiative would give City Council power to contract police, fire services

A former city worker has filed preliminary paperwork for a ballot initiative that, if approved, would allow the City Council to contract police and fire services with L.A. County without voter approval. Sheila Pautsch, a former recreation manager now working for South Pasadena, filed the paperwork with the Downey city clerk and city attorney on Sept. 18. The ballot measure seeks to overturn the Downey charter amendment that requires 2/3 voter approval before the city can contract with any local agency for police and fire services.

In light of budget cuts that took a fire engine out of service July 1, the union representing Downey firefighters has been lobbying the City Council to consider contracting with L.A. County Fire. A study is currently underway to determine the feasibility of L.A. County fire protection services in Downey.

The proposed ballot measure would give a simple council majority the power to fold the police and fire departments and contract with L.A. County. The Downey fire union has endorsed former Bell Gardens councilman Salvador Franco for Downey City Council. They have also supported Councilman Luis Marquez, who is seeking reelection.

"This should be extremely concerning for all Downey residents. There is no logical reason why the citizens of Downey should not have a say in such an important matter since we the residents are the stakeholders," said Councilman Mario Guerra, who has been outspoken in his desire to keep the Downey Fire Department intact. "This matter shows why the upcoming election is so important. If the fire union gets their way, and the candidate they are pushing and supporting, Salvador Franco is elected, this initiative could become a reality and Downey residents could lose a tremendous right to vote which I believe is the basis of our democracy."

If the Downey City Council declines to put the initiative on the ballot, the fire union would need to gather about 7,350 signatures to put the proposal to a vote (15 percent of about 49,000 registered voters). The special election would cost the city $100,000, officials said.

"To contract out to Sheriff or county fire goes against the basic DNA of our community and our fundamental right as citizen to vote on such an important matter, as mandated in the 1998 amendment passed by 85% of our residents," Guerra said. "This is an overt attempt by special interest groups to supersede the will of the voters and push through such a tremendous responsibility on a city council which would only need three votes to pass. This is disingenuous at best."

Guerra was the only council member to immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It is important that our residents be uniformed about our current public safety and the ramifications this amendment would have. This is why the upcoming election is so important," Guerra said. "I hope the residents of Downey study the candidates and vote for who they believe will best represent the resident of our city and not outside special interest groups.

"I will continue to make sure we have the best public safety we can and deserve. I think our police and fire departments do an amazing job and I will do everything I can to make sure they are kept local. I do not and will not support taking our citizens' rights away to vote for this vital service and I hope everyone asks all the candidates their position on this."