MONTEREY PARK — Fire Chief James O. Page has apologized for internal Fire Department memos that criticized the city's political and business leadership and referred to residents as "the great unwashed masses."
"I made a very big mistake for which I am sorry," Page said in a letter to the Monterey Park Progress, a weekly newspaper. In an editorial last week, the newspaper had called for Page to apologize for the memos, which became public this month.
"Your editorial suggestion that an apology from me to all citizens of Monterey Park . . . was, of course, quite appropriate," Page wrote. "I'm only disappointed I did not take the initiative to do so before it was necessary for you to raise the issue."
The memos, written in the last year, outlined the department's strategy for a proposed takeover of the city's fire safety operations by the county Fire Department. Page edited the periodic memos, which he and three members of the Monterey Park Firefighters Assn. wrote as a way to keep the department abreast of negotiations and a study about whether a takeover would benefit the city.
"Aside from my personal regrets for hurt that may have been caused . . . ," Page wrote, "I very much regret that the superb work of an outstanding group of firefighters and paramedics has been overshadowed by this matter."
Before he sent the letter, Page said in an interview Monday, he discussed the issue with City Manager Mark Lewis. In response to disclosure of the memos, Lewis had taken disciplinary action against Page, but neither Lewis nor Page will provide any specifics.
Lewis did say that Page's apology was important and helpful, and the city manager said that he and other city officials need to continue to study the financing that would be involved in a county takeover.
In explaining why he wrote the letter, Page said he hoped that by apologizing he could contribute to a more rational discussion of the merits of the proposal regarding the county Fire Department. "I could rationalize until the cows come home about the memos," Page said. "Ego can be a tremendous obstacle to clear thinking."
Page sent copies of his letter to City Council members, who have been reluctant to say much about the controversy.
But Mayor Pro Tem Barry L. Hatch said Page's apology came too late. "The apology should have come immediately," Hatch said.
Council member Betty Couch, however, said Page's making an apology "was an appropriate thing for him to do."
Offering praise for Page's letter, Councilwoman Judy Chu said, "The apology shows Chief Page is quite serious about trying to gain the trust of City Council members as well as the public."