Alameda firefighters say audio recording shows mayor making inflammatory comments about them, council colleagues

Alameda Firefighters union says they obtained a
recording of Mayor Trish Spencer speaking
critical of them and two  council colleagues.

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | The day after the Alameda City Council approved new public safety contracts last month, Mayor Trish Spencer made inflammatory comments against a current council member, in addition, to now former City Manager John Russo, according to a letter from the president of the Alameda Firefighters Local 689 sent Tuesday to Spencer and the entire council .

The alleged comments made by Spencer were recorded by a resident inside of the Peet’s Coffee and Tea on Park Street last May 1, said Jeff Del Bono, the president of IAFF Local 689.

In the recording, Spencer is said to have asserted Councilmember Frank Matarrese reneged on a pledge to vote against the public safety contracts. “Frank was supposed to vote with me and switched his vote,” the letter alleges. Spencer registered the lone vote in opposition.

Councilmember Frank Matarrese

Del Bono also suggests Spencer engaged in unethical behavior by seeking a colleague’s vote beforehand. “Alameda’s City Council Members conduct themselves professionally and hold themselves to high ethical standards,” wrote Del Bono. “So I was shocked when I heard you admit that you had tried to garner a vote from one of your fellow council members, because this clearly sounds like back room dealing.”

Matarrese, who has shown an independent streak since returning to the council this year, but has also voted with Spencer, at times, declined to comment. “I wasn’t there,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

Spencer said she did not recall making the comments alleged by the union. “I have the greatest respect for all of our employees, including our firefighters,” said Spencer. “We have important issues that were discussing right now and this is just a distraction by Mr. Del Bono.”

In the letter, Spencer is also alleged to have told the group in the recording that former City Manager John Russo had created favorable contracts for police and fire. “John just wanted to take care of the firefighters before he left,” according to the letter. The April 30 vote on the public safety contracts occurred on Russo’s last day at City Hall after accepting the same position in Riverside.

Mayor Spencer allegedly said former City Manager
John Russo “wanted to take care of the firefighters.”

Del Bono called Spencer’s comment “factually inaccurate” and that the contracts were negotiated within the collective bargaining process and with all parties involved. “The firefighters received no more or no less than the other three Public Safety Units,” Del Bono wrote. “Again you made comments that are damaging to our city and its trust in public safety units.”

It isn’t the first time the rank-and-file of the firefighters union has been upset over Spencer’s alleged comments at the same coffee shop. Two firefighters also overheard Spencer make comments critical of the union while holding court with constituents at Peet’s earlier in April.

During a budget meeting in mid-April, Del Bono and others referenced the first incident during public comment, but without any specifics, only a vague reference to an official speaking negatively about the firefighters union in a coffee shop. On this occasion, the letter alleges Spencer told the group the firefighters were “overpaid and that none of us live in town.” Del Bono, in the letter, refuted both assertions.

In just the first few months of Spencer’s administration, the tenor at City Hall has risen to a noticeably fractious level highlighted by a string of lone no votes by the new mayor and a slew of passive-aggressive comments and behavior among council members.

Traditional conflict in Alameda between labor unions and a vocal minority who backed Spencer and who also support vigorous austerity measures over unfunded liabilities have also created an atmosphere of tension at the normally sedate public meetings.

NOTE: This article was updated shortly after it published to include Mayor Spencer’s comments.

Categories: Alameda, Alameda City Council, firefighters union, Frank Matarrese, Jeff Del Bono, John Russo, letter, Peet's, public safety contracts, Trish Spencer

12 replies

  1. By MW:

    Regarding allegations that Trish Spencer, and who is the mayor of the city of Alameda, supposedly made comments asserting that city's firefighters are overpaid.

    While I do not live in the city of Alameda and am not familiar with the pay scale and other characteristics of that particular city's firefighters, however as a general rule concerning at least most Bay area fire departments, firefighters: one, tend to be extremely overpaid; two, are extremely lazy and generally cut corners; and three, have skyhigh rates of alcoholism, and including often drinking while on the job. In fact, once a Bay area firefighter from Alameda County's Fire Department (and this was during his working hours) stopped by my house to discuss something with me, and to say he was extremely drunk would be one of the biggest understatements of the century.

    And on occasions at public meetings I have happened to see a particular guy who was a captain in the Oakland Fire Department (I believe he is retired now) who was obviously an extreme drunk and whose salary was 145Kper year.

    And the percentage of extreme alcoholics in the San Francisco Fire Department is so super skyhigh and totally off the charts, that therefore when people see “SFFD” they should not interpret it to mean SF Fire Department but instead SAN FRANCISCO FRAUDS AND DRUNKS.

    In fact in the future I will discuss how the skyhigh rates of alcoholism among Bay area firefighters almost certainly at least considerably contributed to the huge size and monstrous destruction of the Great Oakland fire, a fire that caused the deaths of approx twenty five people and also the destruction of over two thousand houses.


  2. That vocal “minority” you describe ELECTED Trish Spencer mayor. Since when does a minority elect a candidate, from a field of two? Learn arithmetic, please. Methinks you read too much BBA.


  3. Midterm election, aloof non-campaigning incumbent and 120 votes equals good timing, good GOTV game. Not a mandate. And not a great mayor.


  4. Jeff Del Bono has the audacity to question the moral and ethical character of current Mayor, Trish Spencer? He needs to first of all back off, reflect, and refrain from what he does best… muckrake and have his overpaid grunts hang out at “coffee shops” and eavesdrop to bits and pieces of open conversation and then blast them here, to undermine what good she's trying to accomplish.

    SHAME ON YOU DEL BONO and SHAME ON YOU and if you need more readership, this isn't the way to augment your reader base.

    Next: Another slamming article from either Lena Tam or the former Mayor of Alameda, Marie Gilmore (@MarieLGilmore), or maybe from her rude and accusatory and harassing lapdog Rod Gilmore (@RodGilmore). Just like clockwork here.


  5. Yup. The firefighters union is acting like a traditional bunch of union thugs.

    If anyone knows about backroom deals, it's Del Bono and Russo, both of whom were photographed together on election night, Nov. 2010, along with Rob Bonta, Marie Gilmore, Lena Tam, other firefighters, and Mike Henneberry (another union thug) celebrating the bonta/gilmore/tam victory.

    Russo was also key in getting Kirsten Vital at the school district to hand over choice development land, celebrated the vote on the aggreement with cake at city hall, BEFORE the vote even took place.


  6. “John just wanted to take care of the firefighters before he left,” – many of us watching City Hall believe this to be true.


  7. 'MW' says, “… as a general rule…. firefighters …. tend to be extremely overpaid… are extremely lazy and generally cut corners; and …. have skyhigh rates of alcoholism, and including often drinking while on the job.” These comments are 'over the top' and “MW” needs to take a 'chill pill.' We may await (but souldn't expect) the fuller explanation offered when “MW” says, “in the future I will discuss how the skyhigh rates of alcoholism among Bay area firefighters almost certainly at least considerably contributed to the huge size and monstrous destruction of the Great Oakland fire.” Let's see if he means what he says in this regard. (Don't hold your breath.) Finally: The readership should beware of the comments by an anonymous commentator here who said, “The firefighter's union is acting like a traditional bunch of union thugs.” This same contributor also describes Mike Henneberry personally as “another union thug.” This, too, is highly objectionable. It might be a libelous slur against not only one individual, but also used against the entire rank-and-file of the firefighter's union; No reliable evidence of the alleged conduct is cited. The language of the comments, in this context, says much more about the bias of the authors (their dogma) than it does about anything else being discussed in this forum. – sg


  8. EBCitzen should also be careful about what it re-publishes. Even as a union official, Jeff Del Bono may not speak for the membership of the firefighters' union Local 689 as a whole. Did he sign the letter as an officer of the union? Was the letter to the council and to the mayor sent on union letterhead and, if so, was its substance something that enjoyed the input and endorsement of the local union membership over which he presides? Did the membership have an opportunity to vote on any of what was stated in the letter? (Inquiring minds want to know.) Del Bono should allow the accused to confront her accuser(s) by furnishing a copy of the anonymous recording which contains the alleged objectionable comments. Surreptitious recordings by anonymous eaves droppers are to be viewed with suspicion until their contents are verified.


  9. Mike Hennebery was arrested at nob hill foods for allegedly assaulting a manager there during a labor dispute. He's also apparently posted in this forum under his own name with his characteristic bombast and aggression. His personal financial bankruptcy – public court filings – only compound his moral bankruptcy.


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