Despite Calls for Unity, Tensions with Los Angeles (CA) Fire Union Persist

The citizen panel overseeing the Los Angeles Fire Department elected a new president Tuesday at a sometimes tense public meeting.

Dakota Smith

Los Angeles Times

(MCT)

The citizen panel overseeing the Los Angeles Fire Department elected a new president Tuesday at a sometimes tense public meeting that ended with the new panel leader calling for an end to “pettiness.”

The five-member board elected longtime community activist Jimmie Woods-Gray, 79, as president, replacing attorney Delia Ibarra, who had led the board since 2013. Dr. Jimmy Hara was picked as vice president.

Ibarra didn’t attend Tuesday’s vote because of a work obligation, she told The Times.

The Board of Fire Commissioners hasn’t held an election since 2014, one of several issues bringing scrutiny to the Fire Department. More seriously, several female firefighters are accusing the agency of sexism, while a recent lawsuit by a group of Black firefighters alleges discrimination.

There are also allegations that a high-ranking LAFD official received preferential treatment after he was reported to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on duty at the department’s headquarters. The allegations have prompted Black and Latino firefighter groups to push for a federal investigation into what they allege is widespread racial bias.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Jeff Gorell, top deputy for public safety issues for Mayor Eric Garcetti, praised Woods-Gray for her longtime experience in government, work that includes serving on panels focused on neighborhoods and redistricting.

“We’re starting a new chapter,” Gorell said.

During the meeting, Woods-Gray suggested that speakers move away from personal attacks, her acknowledgment of long-standing tensions involving members of the department.

“When we do public comment, I hope that people will not call [out] the names of people,” Woods-Gray said. “If you’re talking about somebody, just talk about the issue that you have a problem with and not call out names…. We want to deal with issues … not pettiness.”

“We are trying to start a new day,” Woods-Gray added. “A new commission meeting, a new way of working with everybody.”

The Fire Commission, an all-volunteer group that oversees department policy, has seen several public spats in recent months.

First, Garcetti removed a commissioner who had clashed with the fire union, prompting accusations the labor group had been behind his departure. The union and Garcetti’s office denied the accusations.

Former Commissioner Andrew Glazier has said it was his understanding that Freddy Escobar, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, demanded his removal in exchange for the union’s support of a high-profile alternative policing program backed by Garcetti.

Another commissioner, Rebecca Ninburg, also told The Times this year that a top Garcetti staffer informed her about the union’s displeasure with Glazier. She said Garcetti’s chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, told her that the union was holding up its support over the program because of Glazier.

Glazier’s departure from the board angered groups representing female and Black firefighters who said the commissioner was an advocate for diversity at the LAFD. The groups wanted Garcetti to reconsider his decision, but the mayor appointed another commissioner.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Escobar lashed out at Ninburg.

He accused Ninburg of spreading “malicious rumors” about him and the union’s position on the alternative policing program. He raised the issue of her comments to The Times.

Escobar then asked Woods-Gray how she would put a stop to rumors he accused Ninburg of spreading.

Ninburg, responding to Escobar’s statements, told The Times after Tuesday’s meeting that she wasn’t spreading rumors and her statements were the result of “a direct conversation” she had with the mayor’s chief of staff.

Woods-Gray’s election came after several commissioners publicly questioned why an election hadn’t been held in months.

Ibarra said this week that she wasn’t told until November by city attorneys that an election needed to be held annually.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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