Orinda and Moraga Residents Sign Petition for Baitx’ Recusal from MOFD

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(Courtesy of MOFD)
District 1 Board Member Gregory Baitx, an active firefighter and elected by Moraga residents of District 1, was asked to recuse himself from any union business coming before the MOFD Board.

    After the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) Board of Directors controversy about merging with the Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ConFire), the Board now faces another controversy just as incendiary – whether MOFD Director Gregory Baitx should recuse himself from all labor negotiations.
    Although the Board agreed to no longer pursue the merger topic, Director Baitx, who put the hot topic on the May agenda, is now under fire by a group of Orinda citizens citing an “apparent conflict of interest.”
    The alleged conflict of interest involves Director Baitx participating in labor negotiations while being an MOFD board member and an active firefighter with the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District according to Former Mayor Sue Severson.
    The Orinda News has made multiple attempts to contact Baitx and as of publication, there has been no response.
    Severson said there is a large, grassroots group in the community that “has interest in making sure we keep our excellent level of fire service.”
    The group of residents, including former Orinda City Council Members, created a website (https://bit.ly/2U608ni) defining why they believe Baitx has a conflict of interest. The site also alleges Baitx’s union president asked him to put the consideration of the MOFD/ConFire merger on the Board’s agenda.
    “He is one of three members of the Board aligned with the employees’ union, not the residents of Orinda and Moraga,” said Orinda resident Steve Cohn in an email. “It is important to demand that Greg Baitx recuse himself, turning a 3:2 majority into a 2:2 compromise.”
    Baitx, who represents District 1 in Moraga, was absent from the June 16 meeting when the May online petition calling for his recusal was presented by former Mayor Laura Abrams. With 1,150 signatures from Moraga and Orinda, it demanded he recuse himself from the labor negotiations.
    “The communities you have been elected to serve no longer trust you as the community representative and have lost faith that you have the resident’s best interest at heart and believe that you place outside interests above Moraga-Orinda citizens,” said Abrams. “You cannot serve two masters. You cannot negotiate the best union contract for your constituents for paying the bill on one hand and negotiate against your union president and fire suppression brotherhood on the other hand. Walk away from the negotiation table and leave it to the remaining four directors to negotiate …. There is passion and determination from both communities to have this process be legitimate and without tarnish.”
    The MOFD Board governing documents require “recusal for an ‘apparent’ conflict of interest in addition to an actual conflict of interest.” MOFD Board President Craig Jorgens said MOFD provides a “higher standard for conflicts of interest than California State law mandates.”
    According to the State of California Department of Justice, Gov. Code, § 87100 et seq. “no public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.”
    Government Code section § 1090 also states that “members of the Legislature, state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members.”
    Board President Jorgens added that “This particular recusal decision is up to Director Baitx, but if I had his set of circumstances, I would recuse myself.”
    A memo will be written by Director Jon Holtzman and submitted to the California Fair Political Practices Commission for review to seek an opinion, according to Jorgens.
    Controversy has surrounded the board since Directors Steve Dazinger, Michael Donner and Baitx were elected in 2018 (www.theorindanews.com) with the backing of the firefighters union. “Our opinion about why we endorse certain candidates is to maintain a level of protection for this community,” said Vince Wells, president of Firefighters Local 1230, at the time. “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.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good article. The community should be aware of the degree of not just Baitx’s but Danziger’s and Donner’s Conflict. In the 2018 election they received over $30,000 in donations from the employee’s union; ten times what they received from individuals. This gave them a four to one advantage over their opponents. In addition, the MOFD firefighters (the vast majority of whom are not residents of our community), spent hundreds of hours walking the streets campaigning for them. Because of this, they narrowly won all three races; each with a 52% majority. In my opinion the union literally bought the election just so they could control the board when this employee contract would come up for renewal. If this is not an apparent conflict of interest which the MOFD policy does not allow, I don’t know what is. It will allow the board to maximize employee compensation, already averaging over $400,000 per year per firefighter for salary and benefits, and starve out any other needs of the community, like fire prevention.

  2. To clarify, the informal grassroots group of citizens who worked to put the petition together are from both Moraga and Orinda. Over a thousand residents of MOFD from both Moraga and Orinda added their names to the petition calling for Director Baitx to recuse himself.

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