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LAFD Commissioner Says Firefighters Union President Cut A Deal With Mayor's Office To Oust Him From The Oversight Board

An image of a firefighter uses a water hose to put out a fire engullfing some unidentified material on the street
An LAFD firefighter extinguishes a small street fire on May 30, 2020.
(Mario Tama
/
Getty Images North America)
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A member of the civilian board that oversees the Los Angeles Fire Department says he is being removed from his post at the behest of the firefighters’ union leader.

The union president labels the claim “100% incorrect.”

The possibility of interference from the politically powerful union calls into question the five-member board’s independence and ability to perform its watchdog role — while it’s tackling thorny issues such as racial and gender equity in the fire department.

In a letter sent to several colleagues last week, LAFD Commission Vice President Andrew Glazier alleged his term would not be renewed as part of a deal between L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office and the president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC), Freddy Escobar.

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“Although I stood ready and willing to serve another term through the end of this current administration (as is customary), I have been informed that I will not be reappointed,” Glazier wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by LAist. Fire Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor for five-year terms and confirmed by the City Council. Glazier’s term expires at the end of June.

It’s seemingly rare for a Mayor to not renew his own fire commission appointee, unless a commissioner decides to resign. The last commissioner to leave the board was Steve Fazio, a Villaraigosa holdover who departed to run for state Senate.

Glazier twitter pic.jpeg
Andrew Glazier, a non-profit executive and LAFD Commissioner.
(Twitter profile
/
Twitter)

Rebecca Ninburg is the only other commissioner whose second term will expire while Garcetti is still in office. The mayor is not eligible to run for re-election and his term ends in December 2022. All five members of the fire commission board have previously had their terms extended by Garcetti.

The Mayor’s office did not provide a reason for replacing Glazier, other than to say Garcetti wanted “fresh leadership” on the board.

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Glazier said he learned from a senior official in the Mayor’s office that Escobar asked for his removal in exchange for the union supporting one of the Mayor’s policy goals: the Therapeutic Transportation Pilot Program.

It’s one of the programs Garcetti is funding in his upcoming budget to test out alternatives to police having to respond to 911 calls, following more than a year of intensified racial justice protests. The plan is to deploy county mental health specialists at five city fire stations, where they can respond to calls related to patients in mental distress.

“I do not know if the proposed pilot program is good policy or not,” Glazier wrote, noting that the program has not yet been considered by the board of commissioners. Glazier continued: “If it is truly bad policy, then Escobar is selling out the [union] membership to fulfill a personal vendetta against me.”

In an emailed statement, union president Escobar dismissed the allegation and said he had nothing to do with Garcetti’s decision to end Glazier’s time on the board.

“You would have to ask [the Mayor’s staff] why they decided to not renew his appointment,” Escobar said. “But from our standpoint this non-renewal is a good thing for the city and the LAFD.”

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Escobar, a 32-year veteran of the department who represents more than 3,400 LAFD firefighters and paramedics, called the suggestion that he would reverse position on a policy in exchange for Glazier’s removal “an insult.”

“That never happened and, as a matter of fact, UFLAC continues to OPPOSE the Van Pilot Program in its current form,” Escobar wrote. “That is the type of quid quo pro that UFLAC never has and never will engage in.”

A spokesperson for the mayor also said Glazier was off-base. “This characterization is inaccurate,” said Garcetti’s Deputy Communications Director Alex Comisar. “Mr. Glazier’s term on the Fire Commission is ending, and the Mayor has chosen to bring in fresh leadership because he believes that, now more than ever, it’s critical for the Fire Department to be governed as boldly and effectively as possible.”

I thought my job was... to make the department a better place, ask hard questions and hold people accountable."
— Andrew Glazier, LAFD Civilian Oversight Commissioner

The board shakeup eliminates one of the loudest voices for reform on the panel — Glazier was a vocal critic of using fire resources for administrative work at COVID-19 testing sites, for example — while commissioners continue to grapple with long-identified race and gender disparities within the LAFD, the department’s pandemic response, paramedic staffing challenges and other complex issues.

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“I thought my job was to represent the administration and move the agenda forward — and the agenda was [to] make the department a better place, ask hard questions and hold people accountable,” Glazier said in an interview with LAist. “And particularly move the needle on things like race and gender and departmental culture.”

“There are people being hurt every day in this department,” he added, saying he fears “a blind eye will continue to get turned towards it.”

Open Hostility At Board Meetings

The commission itself has also come under scrutiny recently: City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office sent a letter last week warning the board that it was violating the city’s charter by not having held annual officer elections for several years, and failing to meet twice a month. The letter directs Board President Delia Ibarra to put an election for officers on the next board meeting’s agenda.

Glazier’s involuntary departure adds a crescendo to repeated clashes between Ibarra and several LAFD commissioners during public meetings.

During last September’s meeting, for example, Ibarra said she felt “sandbagged” by three members of the commission: Glazier, Ninburg and Jimmie Woods-Gray, who were pushing to move a racial equity report up the list of priorities for the fire department.

“At least two of you would like to be president as well .... I think that this is a very clever way for you guys to sort of usurp that authority,” Ibarra said. “I think it's inappropriate. And it's a way of circumventing the Mayor's wishes, basically.”

Later in the meeting, Glazier pressed LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas to address a looming surge in retirements and promotions — and how to avoid subsequent understaffing in the ranks of paramedics that could increase 911 response times. Ibarra questioned whether the other commissioners were secretly colluding on the issue in violation of the Brown Act, calling their agreement “suspicious” — an accusation fellow commissioners rejected with laughing disbelief.

“We have no idea what [Glazier] is going to say. We do know he likes to talk,” Woods-Gray joked. “But he has good things to say.”

Screen Shot 2021-05-25 at 9.09.36 AM.png
Freddy Escobar, president of UFLAC, the union representing L.A. City Firefighters.
(UFLAC Facebook video.)

In his role as union president, Escobar is a frequent voice during the public comment period at commission meetings, often calling in to chastise board members.

“Because you visit a fire station, have dinner and have conversation with members does not mean you understand the culture,” Escobar told Glazier during a January 2020 meeting.

Escobar defended a December 2019 letter he wrote to Terrazas, blasting Commissioner Ninburg for questioning the graduation rates of women at the firefighter drill tower, accusing her of wanting to lower standards to get more female recruits successfully through the course. (Advocates who push for expanded diversity in the fire service are regularly accused of wanting to lower standards to accommodate women and minorities.)

“You opened Pandora’s Box,” Escobar said at the meeting. “Yes, I'm going to continue to stand for what's right. And you're not going to do it on my watch.”

Support For Outgoing Commissioner

In interviews, several firefighter advocacy groups and fellow commissioners joined in voicing their support for Glazier, who is known for visiting most of the city’s 106 fire stations, regularly going on “ride outs” with firefighters and paramedics, and talking to the rank-and-file about issues they face.

“We demand that his term be renewed and that he be reinstated,” said Kris Larson, president of Los Angeles Women In The Fire Service (LAWFS), in a letter addressed to Mayor Garcetti, LAFD commissioners and every member of the city council.

Larson praised Glazier’s work promoting youth programs, noting that “he has been a strong proponent for equity, inclusion and diversity within the department at all ranks” and adding, “he asks hard questions to find the truth.”

You opened Pandora’s Box... Yes, I'm going to continue to stand for what's right. And you're not going to do it on my watch."
— Freddy Escobar, president of UFLAC

“The decision to not renew [Glazier] for another term is an added hurdle to change and making things better in the LAFD,” said Robert Hawkins, Executive Vice President of the Los Angeles City Stentorians, the organization of Black firefighters formed to combat discrimination in LAFD.

“What's going to be lost is somebody who understands the department in a really deep way, and who's willing to bring up concerns that affect people on a daily basis,” said fellow LAFD Commissioner Ninburg. “I think the union is intimidated by him. And the mayor's office is irritated by him because he forces them to look at problems.”

When he was first elected, Garcetti pledged significant reforms within the fire department, including “a much-needed change to the culture there.” He took office following a string of scandals and lawsuits over the treatment of women and people of color at LAFD, and the revelation that LAFD officials had miscalculated 911 response times.

The Mayor temporarily froze hiring in 2014 after evidence emerged of nepotism and lack of diversity in the recruitment class. “Reforming the Fire Department has been a key focus of Mayor Garcetti's back to basics agenda since day one,” a statement by Garcetti’s office said in 2014.

Last year, the administration failed to reach its goal of achieving 5% women in the fire force by 2020. As of last December 31, women made up 3.5% of the sworn workforce, up from 2.77% in August, 2014 when Terrazas was confirmed to lead the department.