By Claire Harlin
About 15 uniformed firefighters accompanied Solana Beach Firefighters Union President Eric Phillips on Sept. 28 at the city’s regular council meeting to publicly apologize to City Manager David Ott for circulating a letter accusing Ott of endangering the public by trying to reduce fire staffing.
Concern arose over discussions between city officials and firefighters, who were asked to come up with possible reductions to help meet an $800,000 shortfall. A plan to decrease firefighters’ overtime pay — which accounts for nearly $400,000 in annual expenses — by not sending in replacements when an officer is on leave or out sick was brought up but never proposed.
The firefighters’ “hit piece,” as Mayor Lesa Heebner described it in a public response, was sent to community members and press on Aug. 17, a day after the fire department ratified a budget agreement with the City that in no way included staffing reductions, Heebner said.
Meanwhile, another letter was circulated by an anonymous “retired employee,” who alleged Ott was trying to spike his own retirement package — a claim Heebner said was “preposterous.”
Firefighters and community members subsequently came in droves to an August City Council meeting to voice concern, prompting the mayor to respond publicly.
David Ott did not verbally respond to the apology at the City Council meeting on Sept. 28.
Firefighters’ apology in its entirety
“We’re here tonight to offer a public apology to Solana Beach City Manager David Ott.
“The City Council and city manager put its trust in its firefighters, and its trust that we hold to the highest regard. During last month, our actions damaged this trust.
“David Ott is a man who has dedicated his life to public service, and he is a man who truly has a servant’s heart. Our membership displayed a lack of judgment by questioning his character, and in the process, hurt him to the core. So for this, we are truly sorry.
“The Solana Beach firefighters hope to move forward, improve relationships, and regain the trust of our city manager and our city council. On behalf of the Solana Beach firefighters association, we humbly ask that you accept our apology as the first step in this positive direction. Thank you.”
— Eric Phillips, president, Solana Beach Firefighters Association