By Anne Krueger
, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.
The chief of the Lakeside Fire Protection District has been fired in a move that has sparked outrage among many residents who blame the firefighters union for engineering the ouster.
The district’s board of directors voted to fire Chief Mark Baker
in a 3-2 vote that came during a closed-session, special meeting Saturday. Board members Jim Bingham, Nick Johnson
and Pete Liebig voted to fire Baker, while board President Rick Smith
and member Ken Coyle voted against it.
Division Chief Andy Parr was named interim head of the department until a new chief is selected.
Liebig, a retired Lakeside firefighter who has been on the board eight years, said he could not talk in detail about Baker’s dismissal because the action was taken in closed session. He said the board will issue a statement later.
“We kind of lost confidence in the chief and the direction (the department) was going,” Liebig said. “We’re looking at going in a different direction than he wanted to go.”
Smith, who described Baker as “an excellent chief,” said he was angered at the firing.
“It was strictly a preplanned termination of the chief by three board members,” he said.
The department, with a $12 million budget, serves 60,000 residents in Lakeside, Eucalyptus Hills, Moreno, Winter Gardens, Lakeview, Johnstown, Blossom Valley, Flinn Springs and some unincorporated El Cajon areas.
The district is facing an $800,000 shortfall this year because of declining property taxes. Baker and the board have discussed actions that include pay cuts. Smith said the firefighters union opposes the pay cuts and instead proposed eliminating the department’s fire-prevention program, laying off an employee and demoting a fire captain.
Baker declined to comment. Union officials could not be reached for comment.
Although the meeting Saturday was held with just 24 hours notice, the room at the fire department was packed, those in attendance said. In a public comment session before the closed meeting, all of the 18 speakers supported Baker and the work he has done during his five years as chief, Smith said. No one from the firefighters union spoke during the session.
Bob Robeson, a Lakeside resident for 27 years and a retired Cal Fire
and San Diego
firefighter, said Baker has dealt well with the challenges the department faces with declining revenues.
“Most everybody in this community is very happy with the way he managed the budgets and managed the department,” Robeson said.