Newcomer Steven Danziger Named President of Fire District Board

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(Contributed Photo)
Steven Danziger is the new MOFD board president.

    In November’s election, three new members were elected to the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) Board of Directors. The members, Gregory Baitx (District 1, Moraga), Steven Danziger (District 3, Orinda) and Michael Donner (District 4, Orinda) ran as a union-backed slate against independent candidates in the three districts.
    Canyon resident Jonathan Goodwin says, “It’s a very unusual occurrence where we had two slates of candidates facing off against each other, and an entire slate won.” Goodwin seems optimistic about things, saying “I’m expecting this is very good news for the rank and file and has elevated morale considerably. I hope it will be a turning point for the positive.”
    Contrary to Goodwin’s expectations, however, the new board members’ first action has upset many district residents. At the Dec. 5 MOFD Board meeting, Danziger became the new president. Historically, new directors serve as director, treasurer or secretary, while the previous secretary becomes vice president and the previous vice president becomes president.
    After being informed of the precedent, Donner clarified that it was tradition and not in the bylaws; he then nominated Danziger as president, which was immediately seconded by Baitx. Previous secretary Craig Jorgens became vice president and previous Vice President John Jex became secretary while Donner became treasurer.
    “I was really caught off guard by this, and I’m feeling very distressed about it. I’m concerned about the impression that the union is taking over the board and is going to take over the fire district. I find that a disturbing message to send out,” Goodwin admits.
    Goodwin is not alone in his reservations about the new board members’ first action. Moraga Town Council member Kymberleigh Korpus, commenting as a citizen, not as a council member, says, “I have some experience being on a board of this sort, and I would like to note that when we have new members come on there’s a huge learning curve. In my experience, the tradition is often there for a reason, and the tradition gives new people time to learn and to understand a lot of information.”
    Former MOFD Board Member Brad Barber agrees: “There is a reason for a mechanism such as seniority. It is a politically neutral mechanism. It avoids a fight. The position of president of the district is not a tremendously powerful position, but it is important in several respects. By providing a system of seniority, everyone will eventually become president which avoids a contention that I think is best to be avoided.” Korpus adds, “On the Moraga Town Council, we have an experience in our not so distant past of a tradition not being followed, and the political fallout from it was extreme. It generated a lot of divisiveness and anger between members of the town council. The town still talks about it.”
    In an effort to calm angry voices, Vince Wells, president of Fire Fighters Local 1230, clarifies, “Our opinion about why we endorse certain candidates is to maintain a level of protection for this community. We believe we stood up for the community by endorsing these candidates. I do not want to have this board make decisions or have members of the community think that what the board decides to do is based on the fact that we supported these candidates.”
    Wells wants to assure residents that the union had no ulterior motive in supporting the new board members: “We supported them because we believe in fire protection, fire fighter safety, and the maintenance of that ability to provide protection for a community that we are serving. I just want to make the point that any discussion starting from ‘these are the union candidates,’ is inappropriate, and I hope that nobody on this board, even the ones that we supported, operate from that platform.”
    Orindan Steve Cohn disagrees: “If there is any doubt that the three new board members are acting as a block, then their first action at their first board meeting certified it. If there was any doubt that the employee’s union now controls MOFD, that doubt is now gone. What they do with that control remains to be seen.” Cohn is also concerned about where funds will be allocated by MOFD going forward. “If the Oakland Hills fire and the Santa Rosa fire were not wakeup calls that we cannot just wait for it to happen here, the Paradise fire was. We need to start implementing preventive measures. MOFD has to work with Orinda and Moraga in this effort. Will MOFD start carving funds out of its $28 million budget to help fund this or will all increases go to employee compensation as they have for the past two decades?”
    For more information, visit the district website at www.mofd.org.

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