By Tom Lochner

tlochner@bayareanewsgroup.com

The Rodeo-Hercules Fire District has sent an embattled former chief a legal bill of more than $7,000 for negotiations that led to his recent retirement, the ex-chief's new lawyer says.

The district also is denying Gary Boyles some pay adjustments he believes he is entitled to under a June 25 settlement agreement, according to the lawyer, William Kelly.

The bill is for the services of attorney Roberta Hayashi of San Jose-based Berliner Cohen from May 14 through June 25, Kelly said. On that date, Boyles, after a months-long campaign by the firefighters union to oust him, signed an agreement to retire as Rodeo-Hercules fire chief effective June 30.

The agreement allows Boyles to remain a district employee for two more years on administrative leave to complete 10 years of service required to be vested for his pension. He had been Rodeo-Hercules chief since 2001.

Boyles is supposed to be paid one year's salary, spread over the two years, and vacation pay. His most recent salary was $162,180 a year.

Hayashi had represented Boyles since shortly after union firefighters took a vote of no confidence against him in January. The reasons for the vote are subject to widely different interpretations.

In June, Berliner Cohen billed the district $15,000 for representing Boyles. The district thereupon sent Boyles the bill for the $7,000-plus and said it would collect it by withholding that amount from his pay, Kelly said.


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The board's rationale, according to Kelly, is that around mid-May, the no-confidence proceeding changed into a proceeding to remove Boyles, thus absolving the district of the obligation to provide Boyles further legal representation.

"No notice was provided to either Chief Boyles or the attorney then representing him of this change until after. Chief Boyles had resigned his position as chief," Kelly said in a July 27 letter to fire board counsel William Ross.

Ross, reached by telephone last week, said: "The district is obligated to indemnify him (Boyles) until a specific point in time, based on facts that exist. When circumstances change, the district's obligation ends."

Ross said he could not go into details of the Boyles pay dispute because it is a matter for discussion between attorneys and therefore privileged. Kelly said that once Boyles and the district signed an agreement, the matter became public record. Moreover, he said, as of this week Ross had not responded to his letter.

The dispute involves a differential for Emergency Medical Technician certification, worth about $3,300.

Kelly contends Boyles is entitled to it because of a clause in the settlement agreement that promises Boyles "all benefits during this time period to which a fire chief in a paid status is entitled."

Boyles and the firefighters union give starkly different versions of what provoked the January no-confidence vote. Union President Vince Wells, in a Jan. 14 letter to the fire board explaining the vote, accused Boyles of inability to work with department heads of other agencies; public embarrassment of the district at community functions; targeting employees that question his management; disregard for firefighter safety; and disregard for process in labor relations.

In a June interview, Wells said he could not give specific examples because the matter was personnel-related and therefore confidential.

Boyles said the union wanted him out because of his advocacy of a firefighter fitness test dubbed the "Pack Test" as a prerequisite for out-of-area strike team assignments; his preference for keeping his district independent over a possible merger with the Contra Costa Fire District, where firefighters get better pension benefits; his dim view of the 48/96 work schedule -- 48 hours on duty followed by 96 hours off duty; and other issues.

A consultant's investigation found no evidentiary basis to act on the no-confidence vote against Boyles.

In a further ramification of the dispute, Kelly says the district claims that Boyles twice violated the settlement agreement, specifically a clause that bans him from entering district property "other than as consistent with a member of the public, in connection with ongoing community events... or as requested by the District."

In an e-mail, Kelly said that Boyles visited the district headquarters twice, once to deliver his new EMT certification and on another occasion to gather some personal property.

"I do not agree that Gary violated the agreement and see this as a highly technical interpretation,'' Kelly said in an e-mail.