Incumbent fire board members Jim Hartley and John Hidahl retained their board seats in the Nov. 6 general election.
As of Friday, Nov. 9, Hartley had 27.97 percent of the vote, a total of 7,839 votes. Hidahl followed with 6,788 votes for 24.22 percent of the total. Challenger Sherry Petersen mustered 5,035 votes: 17.96 percent, followed by John Peterson’s 4,180 votes: 14.91 percent, and Craig Petersen’s 4,113 votes: 14.67 percent.
The incumbents had to defend their policies and fiscal acumen, which were questioned in a 2011 Grand Jury report and again during a July Tea Party presentation. They heard many of the same arguments from challengers Craig and Sherry Petersen, who’d been following the fire board closely for over a year, and to a lesser degree from John Peterson, a newcomer to the boardroom.
The Petersens also questioned the policies, strategies and practices of their local fire and emergency medical response agency. They researched latest and best practices in emergency medical response, challenging many of the underlying assumptions of district policy and procedure.
They rejected an invitation from the El Dorado Hills Professional Firefighters Local 3604 to be interviewed for potential endorsement, citing a potential conflict of interest if elected.
The incumbents had no such qualms, and accepted the offer, ultimately enjoying the support of the union and its political action committee.
Hidahl works full time as an engineer and had little time for the “ground game.” But as a retired Sacramento fire chief, Hartley had time to wave signs and also canvassed neighborhoods with the firefighters supporting him.
“I answered a lot of questions and had some very positive contacts,” he said.
Driving down White Rock Road recently he encounter two young girls in oversized firefighter turnouts, waving signs on the side of the road containing his name. “That really took me aback,” he said.
The El Dorado hills Associated Firefighters Political Action Committee #941720 donated $14,393 to each of the incumbents for banners, signs, T-shirts, mailing lists and design, printing and postage for three mailers.
Hidahl has been on both sides of the union in his 28 years of service, and noted that the two years he sat out were not by choice. “The union backed Moni Gilmore over me and she beat me,” he said. He’s since been elected with and without union support, and said he greatly prefers the former.
Despite the criticism he endured from members of the Tea Party Patriots of El Dorado Hills, Hidahl said he didn’t think the rise of the Tea Party in local politics had much influence on the race. If anything, he said, it encouraged people to do their own research, especially since Chief Roberts refuted much of the July presentation in his own Tea Party talk in September..
The Tea Party Patriots of El Dorado Hills ultimately endorsed three local candidates in two races, but stayed out of the fire board contest.
The firefighters’ endorsement and campaigning were far more meaningful to the average taxpayer, said Hidahl.
The experience, going back to the Grand Jury report, made Hidahl aware that “a significant number of taxpayers aren’t satisfied with the board’s efforts to reign in spending,” he said, especially on the labor contract, which comes up for renewal next year.
“My commitment is to continue to work with the firefighters and the administration and work something out that works for everyone,” he said. “We’ve started a transition that’s far from over.”
He insists that the newly formed Budget and Negotiations Committee, which includes union leadership, the administration and a couple of board members tasked with balancing the budget and simultaneously hammering out a balanced budget, is up to the task.
Hartley said that he’s not conflicted about receiving the support of a union he will be negotiating with in less than a year.
“I’m there to represent the community,” he said. “If I weren’t committed I wouldn’t run. The guys understand fully that I’m going to do what’s right for the community.”
Hartley didn’t foresee any problem continuing to work cooperatively with the firefighters, which is important because “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Hidahl was equally optimistic about the unprecedented cooperation that resulted from the 2011 negotiation. “The commitment is there on the union side,” he said. “This is a truly a collaborative effort. You’ll see. We’ll find a middle ground.”
“No one ever wants to give up what they already have,” he added, “but that’s not the reality of where we are today.”
Hidahl said he’d enjoyed the attention the district received in the last year, even though the tenor of the discussions became negative at times. “I hope that the taxpayers continue to stay involved,” he said. “We listen to them. We have to.”