Political Notebook

Fire chief feels burned by Fresno council candidate Holly Carter

Fresno fire Chief Kerri Donis, left, and Fresno City Council candidate Holly Carter.
Fresno fire Chief Kerri Donis, left, and Fresno City Council candidate Holly Carter.

Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis isn’t happy with a recent news release from Holly Carter, one of four candidates for the Fresno City Council District 6 seat.

Carter highlighted the Fresno Fire Department in the release – and not in a positive way. The release late last month was headlined: “The Condition of Our Fresno Fire Department Creates a Public Safety Threat!”

In the release, Carter says that, among other things, the department’s budget has been cut “an astonishing” 25 percent since 2009, daily staffing “is down nearly 20 percent,” and calls for service “have increased 20 percent since 2011.”

Not true on all three counts, Donis says.

During the Great Recession, she says, the department’s budget was cut, but since 2010 it has increased 25.3 percent, not reduced by that amount.

“To say the budget has been cut 25 percent is inaccurate,” Donis says.

As for daily staffing, Donis says it is up 9 percent since bottoming out in 2010.

Still, the chief says, Fresno’s minimum daily staffing is low compared to other cities of similar size.

Donis says the department is in “rebuilding” mode. One example of that is seeking a federal grant that would boost minimum daily staffing levels by 12 positions – or four per day. The city should find out during the summer if the grant is approved. If so, it would pay for the positions for two years. After that, the city would have to pick up the cost, about $1.6 million annually.

As for the calls for service, Donis says they’re up – but not 20 percent since 2011. The department responds to all top priority emergencies, known as Level 1. In 2015, the department responded to 42,000 calls, all Level 1. The previous peak was 44,000 calls, but that was when the department responded to both Level 1 and lesser Level 2 emergencies. Level 2 calls total around 10,000 per year.

The news release came out after Donis and Carter met to discuss fire issues. Carter, a business owner and former Fresno County GOP executive director, along with psychologist and former District 6 representative Garry Bredefeld, small business owner and Elvis tribute artist Jeremy Pearce and student Carter Pope II are vying to fill the District 6 seat being vacated by Lee Brand, who reaches his term limit this year.

“We had a good conservation and I laid out the facts, including the investment the city has made in rebuilding this department,” Donis says of her talk with Carter.

A call to Carter was returned by her spokesman, former District 6 Councilman Jerry Duncan. He says the information used in the news release came from Fresno City Fire Fighters Local 753 officials, who reviewed the material before it was released. Carter later followed that up with an email that included a “candidate fact sheet” from Local 753’s political action committee to show where she got much of her information for the news release.

Carlton Jones, president of Local 753, the Fresno City Fire Fighters union, could not be reached for comment.

Duncan did, however, say there could have been one misstatement in the release. Instead of saying the budget was reduced 25 percent since 2009, the release should instead have said the number of firefighters was reduced by that percentage. Duncan says the number of firefighters went from 392 in 2009 to the current level of 314. That is actually a 20 percent reduction.

City officials, however, say the number of firefighters in 2009 was 384, which would make the reduction 18.2 percent. The current level of 314 is also up from 303 in the previous fiscal year, officials say.

In addition to the disputed facts, Donis also is unhappy that Carter used the department’s logo in her news release, which she says gives it an official department feel.

“The use of the logo is technically legal, but it implies the fire department’s endorsement, subtly or not so subtly, which is absolutely not appropriate for any department to do,” Donis says. “So we don’t like that implied in any way.”

Duncan says Donis called Carter and asked her to remove the department’s logo from her news release and website. That was done, Duncan says.

“Holly respects the chief,” he says. “She wants a strong, vibrant and fully funded department.”

A digital copy of the news release on Carter’s website still had the Fresno Fire Department’s logo as of Monday afternoon. Later that evening, it was changed to a generic fire-related logo, as we well as swapping out information on the budget being cut 25 percent for firefighters being reduced by 25 percent. Here is the old news release. Here is the updated release.