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Mediator to Enter Fire Talks

October 28, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

The city has agreed to retain a mediator in a Fire Department dispute after firefighter union members voted 31 to 4 that they have no confidence in their chief.

Alleging that Fire Chief William Edmundson creates hostile work conditions, harasses those who raise concerns within the department and has failed to plan for anticipated disasters, the Laguna Beach Firefighters Assn. announced its "no confidence" vote Monday.

"We're not looking at action to fire the chief," one firefighter said. "We're looking at [city officials] to evaluate the Fire Department and initiate whatever change is necessary to make it the best it can be for the citizens of Laguna Beach."

Firefighters would not give their names, saying they feared retaliation for speaking out.

The union's attorney, Fran Steiner of San Diego, said the chief has contributed to the department's low morale and has not made sure that firefighters are sufficiently prepared for new programs or potential problems.

"They simply do not have game plans in place and strategies in place to respond to incidents," Steiner said.

The firefighters also accused Edmundson of "conduct unbecoming a chief" by making inappropriate gestures while speaking with an employee.

Edmundson referred all questions to City Manager Kenneth C. Frank.

"I think the chief does an excellent job," Frank said. "That doesn't mean there aren't things that could change and be done differently.

"I think we'll probably be retaining a firm to come in and perform conflict resolution or team building," he said.

Frank said the union has expressed interest in having the department join the county Fire Authority.

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