San Bernardino County won't discuss fire chief's status
11:21 PM PDT on Wednesday, August 12, 2009
By DUANE W. GANG
Two top San Bernardino County fire officials, accused of improperly using a county trailer to move personal belongings, were no longer on vacation Wednesday, a county official said.
But that does not necessarily mean the two have returned to active duty, county spokesman David Wert said. He declined to clarify their status.
San Bernardino County supervisors met privately Tuesday to determine whether to discipline Fire Chief Pat Dennen for aiding Deputy Chief Dan Wurl in using a county trailer to move personal belongings from Running Springs to Yucaipa in July.
The supervisors made no official announcement about any punishment, but multiple county sources said Wednesday that Dennen is on a 10-day unpaid administrative leave.
"I think the county would like to be able to disclose more but feels that it can't," Wert said by telephone.
Details about the events that led to the disciplinary action remained limited. The amount of information the county has disclosed has raised questions about whether officials followed the state's open meetings and public records laws.
Open government advocates said the county should disclose more.
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, a watchdog group, said he doesn't mind officials holding a closed session to discuss personnel matters.
But when the action involves a high-level official, the public should know what action is taken, Stern said.
"That acts as a deterrent for future employees doing the same thing," he said. "This is not a private company. This is the public's money and the public has a right to know."
Terry Francke, of Californians Aware, said the human resources report on the matter should be disclosed under the state's Public Records Act. There are ample court cases to support such a disclosure, he said.
Meanwhile, Wert said Wednesday that the trailer that was misused was not designated for Homeland Security or anti-terrorism use or purchased with federal funds. The county has five trailers matching that description, he said.
The county fire department also has two 20-foot trailers, said spokeswoman Tracey Martinez. They are used for search and rescue and are assigned to the Valley and Mountain divisions.
Staff writer Imran Ghori contributed to this report.
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08-30-2009, 10:28 PM #1
Caught With Your Hand In The Cookie JarIAFF
08-30-2009, 10:30 PM #2
The Sun Editorial- Fire chief, deputy should be fired
Fire chief, deputy should be fired
Posted: 08/13/2009 06:53:52 PM PDT
The punishment that San Bernardino County's Board of Supervisors meted out to their fire chief on Tuesday for misappropriation of public resources is ridiculously insufficient. Fire Chief Pat Dennen and Deputy Chief Dan Wurl should be fired for betraying both the public trust and the men and women they purportedly lead in the county Fire Department.
The episode shows once again that too many top-level county employees have no respect for the taxpayers who pay for their livelihoods. The two weeks of unpaid leave supervisors gave Dennen is a joke. (Wurl awaits his punishment.)
That's why we are gratified that supervisors Chairman Gary Ovitt and Vice Chair Josie Gonzales on Thursday referred the findings from the human resources investigation to the District Attorney's Office for consideration of criminal charges.
If the county's supervisors do not make an example of every single department head and top manager who misappropriates county money, time or property, then they are responsible for perpetuating San Bernardino County's reputation as a place where corruption draws a wink and a nod from those in high places.
In this case, we have the No. 1 and No. 2 officials of the county Fire Department abusing taxpayers and county employees by using county time and county property for their private purpose - moving Wurl's belongings from his Running Springs home to his new home in Yucaipa.
The county's investigation reportedly determined that Wurl, with Dennen's assistance, had on-duty firefighters unload a Fire Department trailer so that Wurl could use it to move his stuff. That's quite an example to set for the county firefighters under their command.
The investigation also found that the two regularly used county vehicles for personal use while receiving monthly vehicle allowances of $1,000 to cover the cost of fuel and maintenance for their personal cars.
Two weeks' unpaid leave doesn't come close to proportional punishment for this flagrant breach of ethics, the way we see it. Consider that many state employees are going to have nearly seven weeks of unpaid leave this year - at three furlough days each month - without violating any ethical standards, and having done nothing wrong but work for a government that can't pay its bills.
Wurl, as deputy chief, is "directly responsible for Management & Fiscal Services, County Office of Emergency Services, (and) Human Resources ...," according to the Fire Department's Web site. Yet he degraded the county's emergency services and violated fiscal and human resources principles by diverting personnel and equipment to his personal use.
And Dennen, who has responsibility for the whole department, aided, abetted and approved it.
This abuse of the taxpayers reportedly took place between July 9 and July 13, well after the county had sued former Assessor Bill Postmus and his former management team to recoup taxpayer funds that allegedly were misappropriated and misspent by the Assessor's Office.
For these other department heads to follow suit tells us they learned nothing from the Assessor's Office affair, and they are incorrigible abusers of taxpayer funds. They should be fired, not given an unpaid vacation.
Last edited by snowball; 08-30-2009 at 10:37 PM.IAFF
08-30-2009, 10:40 PM #3
According to the popular online internet dictionary website “The Free Dictionary,” the word embezzlement is defined as “the taking (money, for example) for one’s own use as a violation of trust.”
Before The Real San Bernardino County discusses and reports yet another scandal involving highly-paid county government department heads, let’s take a quick review of this week’s earlier scandal involving the deliberate fleecing of county taxpayers.
Under the common language dictionary definition of the word, San Bernardino County Fire Department Chief Pat Dennen and the department’s number two in command, Dan Wurl, have clearly engaged in embezzlement. They have used equipment that is in their care and trust for personal use in a concerted effort to avoid using their own money to pay for a similar piece of equipment from the private sector.
Both Dennen and Wurl also defrauded county taxpayers by taking care of personal business during hours that they claimed they were working.
Let’s see – illegally using county equipment for personal business while drawing a paycheck during the time they were evidently robbing taxpayers.
We here at The Real San Bernardino County have heard that Messrs. Dennen and Wurl are, in fact, very nice gentlemen who are outstanding in their profession. However, their behavior in this matter appears to greatly exceed any misdeeds allegedly conducted by former Assessor Bill Postmus and his former staffers who have been criminally charged by the county’s hyper-political district attorney and sued by the corruption-enabling board of supervisors. (At least, the board of supervisors enables corruption to those with whom they don’t have a political disagreement. See Pat Dennen, Dan Wurl and Jim Miller as Exhibits A, B and C).
Chief Pat Dennen also receives an automobile allowance – a financial taxpayer-funded benefit that easily could have assisted towards the attainment of a moving van. Instead, Dennen and Wurl illegally used county equipment to facilitate Wurl’s relocation to his tony new residence.IAFF
08-30-2009, 10:52 PM #4
Whoops. What makes it even more stupid is they actually UNLOADED the trailer to do this. It would be "less stupid" if it was an empty trailer sitting in a parking lot. But no.Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.
08-30-2009, 11:23 PM #5
- Join Date
- Jul 1999
- Flanders, NJ
I had a discussion with a long-time friend who is also a highly respected and very famous fire service administrator and educator. He told me...
"Before I take action, one of the things I think about is how this would look if it were printed in the front page of the Washington Post". It seems to me that is advice these two chuckleheads should have taken under advisement.
Although I think that the editorial is pure rhetoric and grandstanding, these two had a serious lapse of judgment. When I was on the public side, the test we used to see if something like this was ethical, was; "Is this something that a member of the general public would have access to or be allowed to do?" If the answer is no, then we shouldn't do it either. The exception would be if it specifically permitted by the agency.
In this case, I would be hard pressed to advocate firing these guys, there should be more than a two-week suspension. There should be a demotion or, at the very least, re-training. Because these two obviously slept through the ethics lecture.PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.
08-31-2009, 12:01 AM #6
- Join Date
- Jul 1999
- Rural Wisconsin, Retired from the burbs of Milwaukee
This is a tough one. We lend out things like tables and chairs and an appliance hand truck. But it is done through channels and a form is made out and so on.
No doubt having on duty crews empty the trailer is a no no. No doubt abusing the fuel or car allownace is a no no. It seems there is no allowance for even using the trailer in this manner so yet another rule broken...
It seems many rules were violated. Punishment is due. 2 weeks seems kind of soft. Firing seems kind of harsh. Seems like either more time off or demotion is appropriate.
What amazes me always is what appears to be blatant stupidity by public officials in these cases.
09-01-2009, 01:40 AM #7
I think termination is way too harsh but the two weeks isn't enough either.
I have borrowed the department dolly, tools, and other misc. things but never grabbed anything that was for front line response. To have the trailer unloaded, by guys on duty, on county time was very foolish and a big no no.
That is comparable to me taking an engine and using it to water my lawn....just not right.
I was once told by a fire chief long ago "ask yourself '....would I be embarrassed if I went on 60 minutes about this?'"Jason Knecht
Altoona Fire Dept.
IACOJ - Director of Cheese and Whine
EAT CHEESE OR DIE!!
09-01-2009, 10:02 AM #8
- Join Date
- Jan 2008
Probably one of the bigger problems is the unavailability of the equipment. Also John Q is going to say they should be allowed to use the equipment as well. Misuse of government property is a serious offense.
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