SOLANA BEACH — Joined at the podium by more than a dozen firefighters at the Sept. 28 City Council meeting, the local union president issued an apology to interim City Manager David Ott after the group accused him a month earlier of trying to reduce staffing and jeopardize public safety.
“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,” Eric Phillips read from a statement.
“Our membership displayed a lack of judgment by questioning his character, and in the process hurt him to the core,” Phillips said. “Sir, for this we are truly sorry.”
An August posting on the firefighters association website claimed Ott was proposing a staff reduction that would decrease “the level of service being provided to the community” and place “the community’s safety at risk.”
The posting claimed the move would result in increased response times, longer on-scene times and fewer first responders for emergencies.
It urged residents to attend the Aug. 24 meeting, and nearly a dozen speakers addressed council, asking them not to cut services.
However, Ott, who began his public service career as a firefighter, never proposed cutting staff or services.
In fact, Mayor Lesa Heebner said she received the posting by email the day after firefighters voted to accept the council’s “status quo” on their upcoming contract.
Ott had been directed by council members at earlier meetings to close a projected $700,000 budget deficit, which included reviewing almost $400,000 in overtime and workers compensation in the Fire Department.
He eventually presented a balanced budget without any layoffs, major changes to service or adjustments in Fire Department overtime.
Ott had called the accusations “a character assassination that’s beyond hurtful,” but said he is not vindictive and holds no animosity toward the association.
“We’re here to serve the community,” he said. “Professionally this holds no bearing at all. We’ll get on with the business of the city to be as affective an organization as possible.”
“We have a road ahead of us … and we have gotten your communication,” Heebner said after Phillips read the statement.
Carlsbad resident Ace Hoffman, who was attending the Sept. 28 meeting for another agenda item, commented on the firefighters’ actions.
“It takes a pretty big man to make an apology like that,” he said. You must have deserved it (the apology),” he said to Ott.
At press time the firefighters association website had been unavailable for at least a week.
Statement read by Eric Phillips, president of the Solana Beach Firefighters Association Local 3779
“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 it’s a trust that we hold with 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. Sir, 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.”