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At Odds With Board, Chief Quits

Sacramento's top fire official, a former state homeland security official, and his aides step down, saying the panel is micromanaging.

June 24, 2005|Veronica Torrejon | Times Staff Writer

A Sacramento fire chief, who was once one of the state's leading counterterrorism officials, has resigned along with his top aides after complaining about micromanaging by the fire district's governing board.

Chief Rick Martinez announced his plan to retire at a Wednesday night meeting of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District board. He was joined by Deputy Chief Dennis Plessas, Assistant Chief Jim Hartley and General Counsel Don Price.

"I wouldn't say it came out of left field but it certainly wasn't necessarily expected at the time," district spokesman Capt. Steve Turner said Thursday.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District covers 417 square miles serving about 600,000 residents in Sacramento County and outlying areas with 42 fire stations.

Martinez, 52, a firefighter for more than 30 years, gained national prominence in 1995 when he helped lead the rescue effort after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. He also managed the Urban Search and Rescue Teams that responded to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

He served as California's chief deputy director of homeland security for about 18 months, Turner said.

Hartley, who described Martinez, Plessas and Price as "colleagues and close personal friends," said he resigned as a gesture of solidarity with the chief.

"We've been through a lot together over the last 10 years," he said. "This disconnect with the board, it's something we've dealt with over a period of months."

Hartley cited a time when the board met on the roof of a fire station to "assess the air conditioning" as an example of the board's tendency to micromanage.

Acknowledging the tension between board members and his staff, Martinez said in a statement to the board, "While we all have tried in our own ways to lessen those challenges, we have not made a great deal of progress."

He also announced his intention to depart by the 10th anniversary of his swearing-in, Oct. 20.

Board President Greg Granados said he spoke with Martinez on Monday and the chief gave him no indication he was planning to resign two days later.

"Really shocked, very surprised," he said of his reaction to Martinez's announcement. "I'm just trying to understand why."

Granados disagreed with Hartley's assertion that the board had been micromanaging the district.

"We asked questions about specifics on purchases and items that were bought," Granados said. "I don't see that as micromanaging. That is what we are supposed to do, watch the dollars."

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