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LAFD's top internal watchdog removed by Garcetti appointees

October 18, 2013|By Ben Welsh
  • A Los Angeles Fire Department ambulance.
A Los Angeles Fire Department ambulance. (Los Angeles Times )

The Los Angeles Fire Department’s top internal watchdog was removed from his post in the latest shakeup at the LAFD under new Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The city Fire Commission voted, 5-0, to dismiss Stephen E. Miller, 59, from his position as the fire department’s independent assessor on Tuesday.

The job was created by a ballot measure approved by voters in 2009, partly in response to soaring settlement costs in employee harassment and discrimination lawsuits at the fire department.

Miller, a lawyer, was the first person to hold the position. During his tenure, he issued audits critical of how the department handles lawsuits and internal investigations. Last year, he clashed with fire officials and union leaders about access to sensitive personnel records.

His dismissal is the latest in a series of changes at the top of the LAFD under Garcetti. Last week, Fire Chief Brian Cummings announced he would step down by what the mayor called “mutual agreement.” Garcetti also replaced four of the five members on the L.A. Fire Commission, a civilian board that oversees the department.

Confidence in the LAFD’s management slumped after fire officials admitted last March to miscalculating emergency-response times, making it appear that rescuers arrived more quickly than they actually did.

Subsequent Times' investigations documented widespread delays in processing calls for help, routine failures to summon the closest medical rescuers from nearby jurisdictions and large disparities in the time it takes rescuers to get to life-threatening emergencies in different areas of the city.

The fallout fueled a conflict between the chief and union officials over staffing adjustments and intensified City Hall's demands for an overhaul of the complex — and largely outdated — patchwork of computer systems the LAFD relies on to handle 911 calls and manage hundreds of medical and accident rescues every day.

Fire Commissioner Andrew Glazier, a new Garcetti appointee, declined to say why Miller was removed and said there was no timetable for installing a replacement. The decision was made during a closed session and without public debate.

“This job is critical to our ability to do our work and that's why the voters created this position as part of the charter,” Glazier said. “We'll be looking for somebody who brings expertise and ability to do our job and be the best department we can be.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor declined to comment on the move.

According to the city charter, the independent assessor reports to the Fire Commission and has the power and duty to "audit, assess and review the fire department's handling of complaints of misconduct committed by employees, sworn or civilian."

With more than 3,500 employees, the LAFD is one of the largest municipal fire departments in the United States.

In the city budget, the amount of money directed to the fire department is second only to the police department. The fire department spends more than $500 million a year to pay and train firefighters, maintain a fleet with hundreds of special rescue apparatus, answer 911 calls, enforce fire codes and monitor hazardous waste.


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