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.

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