A recall campaign is heating up in the city of Atwater over the possibility of returning once again to a city-run fire department, which would require the cancellation of a contract with Cal Fire. Councilman Jeff Rivero, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Rivero and Councilman Gary Frago have expressed support for such a change because they posit it could save Atwater money without compromising the quality of the city’s public safety services.
However, critics and recall proponents don’t see it that way. Councilman Jeff Rivero in particular is the target of the recall campaign because his term does not expire in November. The effort is being spearheaded by a group of residents who have already begun the process of filling out recall paperwork. Recall supporters believe the city cannot afford its own fire department, especially since Atwater is growing and the level of service it requires will also grow.
Notably, no decision has been made yet on the Cal Fire contract, but the issue has still managed to inspire the initial stages of a recall. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the recall’s major proponents is married to a Cal Fire employee, which has led officials to call the effort a ploy to protect the firefighter union’s turf. The Merced Star reports the following on such sentiments:
“Fred Warchol, a planning commissioner who worked on Jeff Rivero's campaign, said the union, CDF Firefighters, is pushing the recall as a way to protect its interests by retaining the Cal Fire contract with the city. ‘They feel that Jeff, Joe and Gary are a threat to them retaining this contract,’ Warchol said, adding that moving back to a city-run fire department could ‘absolutely be done’ with a lot of foresight and effort. The city leaders are doing their job by scrutinizing the arrangement, he said. ‘I think they absolutely have an obligation to look into this,’ he said. ‘Our city budget is in a precarious position, like many city budgets in the state of California.’”
Cal Fire also recently filed a public records request to obtain messages between the council members about the contract. In response to the recall campaign, Councilman Rivero commented, “I've worked extremely hard for the citizens of Atwater. I don't know how I could have worked any harder, but I worked for the people.”