Peter Carpenter, no stranger to the Menlo Park fire district board of directors, decided to enter this year's election with barely 24 hours to spare before the filing deadline. The district serves Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and portions of unincorporated San Mateo County.
He told the Almanac he'd returned from Colorado on Tuesday and found out that incumbent Stephen Nachtsheim had decided not to run.
That left incumbents Jack Nelson and Rex Ianson on the roster, along with former council candidates Chuck Bernstein and Carolyn Clarke.
Mr. Carpenter said he was "very concerned that the firefighters' union is going to attempt to take over the board with this election." The incumbent's withdrawal "left an easy opening for the union to control three seats."
He has already declined to interview for an endorsement from the San Mateo County Central Labor Council.
"Since there will (hopefully) be a new firefighter's contract negotiated with the Fire District during the forthcoming term, I can understand that it is in the labor union's interest to have Fire District Directors who you think will serve your interests," Mr. Carpenter wrote in an email to the labor council on Thursday. "Similarly, an endorsement by a labor union for an election that will be immediately followed by labor negotiations carries with it the appearance of a conflict of interest."
Written statements from Ms. Clarke and Mr. Bernstein indicate that labor issues, with raises as a key point of contention, will be at the forefront of this year's election. The fire district has been in protracted negotiations with the firefighters' union for more than six years.
Mr. Carpenter described this year's election as pivotal for protecting taxpayer interests. "While I have deep respect for our individual firefighters, I cannot say the same for their union which, disregarding the district's fiscal health, demands an excessive pay, benefit, and pension package," he wrote in a campaign announcement.
The 73-year-old former director's announcement also cited his nine years of service on the fire district board and long history of public service that included time as a volunteer firefighter and Air Force officer. Mr. Carpenter also referred to his corporate management and nonprofit experience.