Contra Costa supervisors, who serve as directors of the county's largest fire district, seem to be running out of patience with Chief Daryl Louder. The frustration led to a public dressing down Tuesday the likes of which we haven't seen in decades.
We can only wonder what took so long. It was justified.
As we've said repeatedly, Louder doesn't get it. In a fiscal crisis that demands sophisticated leadership willing to thoughtfully examine alternative service models for the Contra Costa Fire District, the chief remains a traditional fire executive unwilling or unable to think creatively.
The disconnect and his poor communication skills explain why supervisors, who have had to close four stations, went around Louder by directing County Administrator David Twa to lead studies on cheaper ways to deliver fire and medical-emergency services.
Yet, Louder continues to march to his own drummer, seemingly oblivious to the direction his board wants to go. While supervisors ask whether the district -- which serves much of Central County as well as Antioch, Pittsburg and San Pablo -- should continue dispatching well-paid firefighters to medical emergencies, Louder on Tuesday brought a proposal to raise revenues for the status quo by billing those who call for service.
Currently, the ambulance company that responds can bill, but Louder wants to also charge for firefighters who show up to help. There were no details of the billing plan and no cost or legal analyses, yet Louder asked the supervisors for authority to draft an ordinance to implement the idea. The board said no.
Louder also sought approval to conduct formal negotiations with the Moraga-Orinda Fire District to jointly build and operate a new fire station on the border between the two districts. It would replace one operated by MOFD and one owned, but currently closed, by the Contra Costa district. In other words, this would require a staffing increase for the Contra Costa district.
To Louder, the issue was not whether this was a good idea; he just wanted authority to plow ahead. Again, there was no cost analysis or meaningful detail on which the supervisors could intelligently make a decision.
It would clearly put the cart before the horse to commit the district before examining how best to deliver services. And, while it might please Lafayette residents, how would it play in other communities that have experienced station closures?
Supervisors were annoyed, and let the chief know in no uncertain terms. They hadn't been given advance warning this was coming. Louder was pressuring them that MOFD needed an immediate decision. And he didn't tell them that MOFD intended to own and operate the station. They gave Louder permission to talk to the district but wisely made no commitments.
It not clear that Louder enjoys the full support of any of the five supervisors. They have each expressed frustration in the past few months. As Supervisor John Gioia told us, "I think there's a crisis of confidence."
One wonders when they'll finally do what's needed: Find another fire chief.