|Black Ranks Back
Richmond Fire Chief
January 23, 1998
WEST COUNTY TIMES
Friday, January 23, 1998
RICHMOND Fearing that their union may be trying to oust city Fire Chief Alford Nero, members of the Richmond branch of the Black Professional Firefighters Association voted unanimously Tuesday to support the head of the 118-member department.
The vote, announced by the association's president Wednesday, was another salvo in the war of words over Nero.
He has been criticized by some members of the city's International Association of Firefighter Local 188 union for not providing enough training, not having fire apparatus repaired and for not meeting all firefighters.
But supporters say Nero, who plans to join the black firefighters association, does a good job. They argue the union is lashing out because Nero has taken departmental policy control from union leaders.
The union denies that it is trying to get Nero fired. Nero said he does not put much stock in rumors of his demise.
"Until I hear from someone who has the authority to take that action, I take it just as what it is rumor," he said Thursday.
The black firefighters' allegations shined another unwelcome spotlight on the city firefighters union. In December, the union and its political consultant, Darrell Reese, admitted misreporting the source of more than $15,000 in campaign contributions. Earlier this week, the Black Men and Women's political organization was accused of taking orders from Reese, who is white.
Reese, a former firefighter, controls the union's sizable campaign finance coffers and is known for last-minute negative political advertisements. He also works as a business consultant, a role critics says too often blurs the lines between union politics and Reese's personal finances.
Fire Capt. Oscar Jones, president of the 27-member black firefighters group, said his group wanted to make a statement of support for Nero now because of last year's ouster of City Manager Floyd Johnson.
Johnson, who was forced out in November by an unhappy City Council, hired Nero two years ago as the city's second black fire chief. Now that Johnson is gone, Jones said he fears Nero's opponents in the union will convince the next city manager to fire him.
"We felt that now there is an urgency to go after (Nero). So we are taking a proactive position," said Jones, a Hercules resident elected to the black firefighters group presidency three years ago. He said about half the group's membership, about 14 people, voted to support Nero. The rest were absent.
Local 188 President Henry Hornsby, himself a member and former president of the black firefighters association, emphatically denied Wednesday any official union attempts to lobby for Nero's ouster.
"We take the position that we just follow the decision of the city manager," he said, adding that he cannot understand the accusations. "This is premature. These guys either panicked or got paranoid or something. We don't even know who the next city manager is."
Under the city's charter, only the city manager can fire the fire chief.
City Councilman Tom Butt has contradicted Hornsby, saying the fire captain told him privately that he wants the fire chief fired. Butt, who has battled the union politically, supports Nero.
Jones said Reese is "ultimately calling the shots" in the union. Reese, who admits disliking Nero's management style, denied being the person behind the union's opposition to Nero. But he said the union's executive board, which includes Hornsby, is working against the chief.
"I'm steering clear of it. The guys who are really going after him are the executive board," Reese said Wednesday. Hornsby denied such activity Thursday. Reese admitted the board has never taken a vote to oppose the fire chief.
Two other members of the seven-member executive board, captains Dan Martin and Dan Colvig, said Thursday they have not tried to influence City Council members to orchestrate Nero's ouster. But they admitted they expect council members to do something to change fire department leadership.
"Clearly a majority of the firefighters hope that the City Council, which we helped elect, will choose a city manager who will provide us with a good fire chief," Colvig said. He added that he believes Reese is asking council members to think about Nero's alleged faults.