Almanac

News - March 30, 2011

Menlo district fire chief's new contract approved

• No raise, sick-leave balance cut.

by Sandy Brundage

Almanac Staff Writer

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman will continue receiving $191,616 per year through 2016, without any raises "unless and until there is a material and positive change in the economic climate and an adjustment is prudent and affordable at the discretion of the Board," according to the new contract unanimously approved by the board of directors on March 22.

The contract slashes Chief Schapelhouman's accumulated sick leave by 75 percent, with the remaining hours transferred to his annual-leave bank, which is now capped at 596 hours —an increase of 320 from his previous contract.

That move reduces the district's financial liability in the event of the chief's retirement. Other agencies across the nation have found themselves facing hefty payouts of more than $200,000, just for accumulated sick leave when workers retire.

As with other fire district employees, the chief also gets $26,232 in medical, life insurance and other benefits per year.

Mr. Schapelhouman was hired as chief in 2007 at an annual base salary of $190, 800. In January of the following year he took a 3.6 percent pay cut, but by August, had seen an increase to $191,616.

He said in an email that the terms of the new contract are in line with his expectations.

"Even though I am currently eligible for retirement, since I've given 30 years of service to this community, I didn't agree to continue as the Fire Chief because of the compensation," Chief Schapelhouman said. "In fact, I was a proponent of freezing my salary and not taking advantage of other compensation increases because now is not the time to do that. I believe that leadership starts at the top and it's important to not only say I'm committed to the District but to show that as well."

The district's other firefighters have been working without a contract for almost three years. Negotiations first stalled in 2009 after Menlo Park Firefighters Association Local 2400 filed a grievance with the state's Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) alleging unfair labor practices.

The district's firefighters also filed a lawsuit in July for overtime pay for time spent picking up equipment before and after their shifts start. In 2009 the district decided to replace salaries with hourly wages, leading to the overtime dispute.

Contract negotiations between the district and the firefighters association broke down again in October after union representatives refused to meet with the district's designated negotiators and asked to meet instead with district board members individually. The board declined the request, saying in a response letter that it would violate state law.

In November, the district made a "last, best, and final" offer to contribute $1,500 per month to each employee's health plan, but that was also rejected by the union.

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