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DECISION '94 : Firefighters Vie With City Hall in Westminster

May 29, 1994|BERT ELJERA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WESTMINSTER — In a battle that pits the firefighters union against City Hall, voters will decide next week whether to recall Mayor Charles V. Smith and three City Council colleagues, who approved cuts last year in the Fire Department.

Smith and council members Craig Schweisinger, Charmayne S. Bohman and Tony Lam voted in July to cut nearly $1 million from the Fire Department's budget, forcing layoffs of five of the city's 69 firefighters and putting one firetruck out of service.

City leaders have defended the cuts, which were part of a $2.6-million spending-reduction plan, as necessary to balance the city's $24.8-million budget for the 1993-94 fiscal year.

"We were merely doing our job," Smith said. "We have to reduce costs because of the reduction in city revenues and the state cuts."

But the Westminster Firefighters Assn., which is leading the recall drive, said the cuts endanger local residents and that the motivation for them was retaliation for the firefighters' support of Joy L. Neugebauer in her unsuccessful 1992 mayoral race against Smith.

"The cuts were irresponsible," said Mike Garrison, firefighters union director. "The issue of this recall is public safety."

It will be the first recall election since the city was incorporated in 1957. Three years ago, Smith, Schweisinger and Councilman Frank Fry Jr. were targeted for recall over increases in water rates, but proponents failed to gather enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

The vote is being watched by cities and firefighter unions around the state, with the state firefighters union supporting the recall with money and volunteers.

City officials and the firefighters have hired consultants to run their campaigns and both have created political action committees to coordinate fund raising.

The campaign against the recall attacks the union, saying a "no" vote battles higher taxes. "The recall is (about) whether the council elected by the people should run the city or the firefighters union should run the city," Smith said.

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