By Anne Krueger
, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:01 a.m.
LAKESIDE — Residents angry about the Lakeside Fire Protection District board’s decision to terminate Chief Mark Baker
are threatening to attempt a recall of the board members who voted for the dismissal.
The vote to fire Baker came at a special Saturday meeting of the board on Jan. 16, held with just a day’s notice. Baker’s dismissal, taken in a closed-session vote, was supported by board members Pete Liebig, Nick Johnson
and Jim Bingham. Board president Rick Smith
and member Ken Coyle voted against the firing.
Last week, about 60 Lakeside residents upset about the firing met at a restaurant to plan strategy for a recall or other actions in response to the vote.
“That was a total abuse of power,” Lakeside resident Carlynne Allbee said of the action. “I’m just totally frustrated by the situation and I don’t think it’s right.”
Residents blame the firefighters’ union for forcing Baker’s ouster because he was considering pay cuts to help meet a deficit in the department’s $12 million budget.
Humberto Lawler, president of the 46-member Lakeside Firefighters Association, said the union was unhappy with Baker, but was not behind his termination. He said firefighters realize that pay cuts and other concessions may be required of them as they negotiate a new contract with the department.
“We want to see a balanced budget,” Lawler said. “We are going to be part of the solution.”
At a board meeting Tuesday night, residents lambasted directors for dismissing Baker, who was officially placed on paid administrative leave until April 19. Andy Parr has been named interim chief.
“You guys need to be taken behind the woodshed because you did not listen to Lakeside,” said Lakeside resident Dennis Richardson
Baker, who served as chief for more than five years, said in an e-mail that he could not comment on his dismissal, but thanked residents who have supported him.
Organizers of the recall effort say they are focusing on Johnson and Bingham, whose terms run until 2012. Liebig, a board member for eight years, is up for election in November, the soonest date a recall could be held.
The department serves 60,000 residents in Lakeside, Eucalyptus Hills, Moreno, Winter Gardens, Lakeview, Johnstown, Blossom Valley, Flinn Springs and some unincorporated El Cajon areas.
To mount a recall, 20 percent of the district’s 32,433 voters – or 6,487 – would have to sign a petition within 120 days after the signature drive began. The county Registrar of Voters then would have to verify the signatures. If enough valid signatures are collected, the registrar would notify the fire board to seek an election. The registrar’s office would call for an election if the board failed to do so.
If a recall election is held, it would be the fourth recent recall in San Diego
County. In December, Oceanside voters rejected a recall of Councilman Jerry Kern. A recall is being sought in Poway of Councilwoman Betty Rexford. A notice of intention for a recall was also recently filed for the Vista Unified School District board.