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Santee Firefighters Hope to Oust the Fire Chief, Not the City Manager

Photo credit: Patch

SFFA President Harley Wallace speaks to council members in July about the association's vote of no confidence in Fire Chief Bob Leigh as he sits feet away.

A closed session meeting of the Santee City Council this week concerned the ongoing friction between the Santee Fire Fighters Association (SFFA) and the Fire Chief.

The SFFA concluded a vote of no confidence in Fire Chief Robert Leigh in the summer, which came on the heels of months of negotiations with City Council on the staffing future of the Fire Department amid a tight budget.

The letter explaining SFFA vote of no confidence included a call for the dismissal of Leigh, though the council has no power to do so. The City Manager has discretion over the role of Fire Chief.

Councilmember John Minto told Santee Patch that the only way for the council to legally talk with the city manager about the job performance of the fire chief was to hold a performance evaluation of the city manager, because the city manager is in charge of hiring and firing city personnel. That is what the closed session meeting on Tuesday concerned, he said.

The agenda released for the closed session meeting had the headers: "public employee performance evaluation" and "public employee discipline/dismissal/release," referring to the city manager. This caused some confusion about what the meeting was about, and whether the city manager was in the hot seat. It turns out he wasn't, but Chief Leigh is still in the sights of the SFFA, and council is inquiring.

The city attorney was on hand at the meeting to educate the council about disciplinary and dismissal processes, said Minto.

Harley Wallace, President of the SFFA, said the organization is not trying to oust the City Manager.

"Concerns are still there with the fire chief; our position hasn't changed," said Wallace. " We hope this is a sign they're working to some sort of resolution... it's best if the city and chief part ways."

The SFFA was not at the closed meeting, and what occurred at the meeting is not public record, but Minto said some information about the result of the meeting will be released.

"We believe it is in our citizens’ best interest to dismiss Fire Chief Bob Leigh from his duties and seek a suitable replacement," Wallace told the council in July.

"Despite our efforts, the Fire Chief has continued to advocate for reduced services, has not adequately addressed our safety concerns, and has continued to undervalue the level of service that we provide our citizens," Wallace said.

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