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Fire chief’s gas use curbed after revelations

Submitted by on 1, August 19, 2010 – 5:00 am15 Comments

Alameda Fire Chief David Kapler’s claim that he has the right to use the city’s gas pumps to fuel any vehicle he owns came as a result of a “miscommunication” between Kapler and the city manager who hired him in 2007, the city’s current top official said Wednesday night.

Still, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant said she has moved to curb the practice, and that she plans to make changes to ensure city leaders have better oversight over fuel use – and employment agreements with the city’s top managers.

“On a ‘going forward’ basis, the Chief will ONLY be using city gasoline for the ‘truck’, and he and I will be discussing the appropriate action and reimbursement of any other fuel used these past months,” Gallant wrote in an e-mail to The Island on Wednesday.

The “truck” is Kapler’s Honda Ridgeline, which the city specially outfitted with a radio, lights and sirens when he opted to use it to fulfill his on-call responsibilities in lieu of a city vehicle.

Gallant said former City Manager Debra Kurita offered Kapler a “verbal commitment” allowing him to use the city’s gas pumps to fuel the truck he owns because she deemed it cheaper than giving Kapler a city vehicle for his full-time use, as the city had done for its previous fire chief. But firefighters began raising concerns about his pumping practices this weekend after someone photographed Kapler fueling a blue BMW coupe at a city fire station.

Kapler told a reporter on Tuesday that his agreement, which included a base salary of $195,702 and a monthly car allowance of $250, allowed him to use the city’s gas for both the cars he drives because he is always on call, even when he is off duty. But Gallant said Kurita told her that offer extended only to his truck.

“(It) was a miscommunication between the two, probably due to the brevity of it and the rush to get an offer letter finalized. It was obviously missed in the offer letter,” Gallant said.

A reporter was unable to reach Kurita for comment on Wednesday.

Kapler was apparently the only management employee in the city who had the option of using the city’s pumps to fill his own gas tank, Gallant said Wednesday. And she said Kurita ended the city’s past practice of allowing employees to use city vehicles for personal business more than two years ago.

Gallant said city leaders are already working toward producing a standard compensation plan for Alameda’s top executives that more clearly spells out salaries and benefits. Meanwhile, she said the city’s public works department is conducting an audit of city fuel use, including an audit of fuel use at the city’s fire stations that she said should take about a week.

Gallant said she will also seek to automate the fire stations’ fuel pumps, eliminating the handwritten logs now used to track how much gas everyone pumps.


  • Tom charron says:

    Firemen/women And the City of Alameda.
    Long term Fiscal Issues vs Use of Alameda City Petroleum!

    Whether the Alameda Fire Chief has ” contract rights” to use City Petroleum in his personal vehicles is of much interest but, the real fiscal issue for Alameda is the “sky-high” salaries we pay Firemen/women and the unreasonable “3%@50” retirement benefits Firemen/women have secured from the CalPers Retirement system over the past few decades.

    Fireman/women with 30 years in the system are elgible to retire @ 3% x 30years x highest salary.

    This means that a Fireman/woman such as Chief Kaplan could retire (if he/she has 30 years in the fire service) with 3%/year worked x 30years x $201,000/year highest salary =$180,900.00/year.

    This excessive long term retirement cost will be born by all the cities who have employed such a fireman. Retirement costs along with the current “wildly high” salary and benefit packages have driven cities like Vallejo California into Bankruptcy!!

    Fire personell cry danger, death risk, high stress and numerous other reasons they deserve high pay. Well if this is the case we should pay all those young men and women currently fighting for our Armed Forces in the same manner. Just ask a Marine Corporal what he/ she is paid to risk life and limb and cerebral shock in our current far flung wars per year! A mere pittance compared to what we pay all Alameda Firemen/women.

    So I hope Chief Kaplan has it in his contract to use City Petrol. If he actually did use same W/O legal right then subject him to the appropriate legal consequences.

    But just remember the City of Alameda Petroleum cost to fill tanks is pale in contrast to salary and retirement payouts to CalPers our fair City will/is pay/paying out to our “overpaid” Firemen/women.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    What kind of City Manager makes a “verbal” agreement to supplement a written contract, which probably had an integration clause inserted by our City Attorney. Oh wait, our City Attorney at that time was still Korade or not? How long is it going to take before all the damage inflicted on the City by Kurita and Korade is 1) Uncovered; and then 2) corrected? Those who are continually blasting current staff because staff is not acting the way those souls would deign proper on each and every of tens of thousands of items, ought to try to walk a week in the shoes of the City Manager and City Attorney
    And as to the ersatz “news bloggers” who will claim that I was on the City Council when Korade was hired therefore I hired her, please check the vote: 4 to 1. Korade undid much of the good done by the Council for over 20 years, including the Guyton settlement. Less than 5 units were section 8 at the time of the conversion of the Buena Vista/Harbor Village apartments, yet she gave up hundreds of replacement units to avoid acting like a lawyer. That vote was also 4 to 1, but was in closed session, something the current Council can no longer really do with Tam and Gilmore on the inside of those closed sessions. No telling what Tam/Gilmore will send to others regardless of the rules; undoubtedly in the interest of “open government”, except she didn’t send anything to the opponents of SUNCAL.

  • Jane says:

    The firefighters’ benefit packages are the result of our previous city councils and a complacent public. Numerous time the council voted to increase pay and benefits and the citizens didn’t say a thing.

  • C’mon, folks, let’s keep our eyes on the big picture. I know it’s mid-August and it’s been a slow news week, but the Kapler Caper is ultimately small potatoes. It’s not that our PO’d firefighters don’t have a righteous beef with the city – they surely do. But, let’s keep things in perspective. You’ve got a member of the council, Lena Tam, continuing to twist in the legal wind and you’ve got a mayor and vice mayor actively working to derail citizen efforts to develop workable sunshine and campaign finance rules. Finally, you’ve got an interim city manager and city attorney who are making it up they go along and are openly hostile to the public process. Our ICM, for instance, has no issue spending public funds to go on a personal political witch hunt (i.e. the bogus Lena Tam investigation.) This same ICM has open disdain for the important public process we employ around how we modify of our City Charter – our municipal “constitution.” No, while the Kapler fuel case might be interesting because it has a “gotcha” feel to it, the real issue of this election is what kind of city government do we want going into the future. Do we want an open and transparent government that respects the citizens and residents it serves or do we want more of the same closed-door, anti-public sentiment and behavior that we have seen to date? I say it’s time for a change. I say we let the sun shine again on City Hall.

  • Carole says:

    There’s already a City committee to negotiate with the Firefighter and Police Officers union to discuss pension reform, but the judge ruled that the City failed to “meet and confer.” This issue with the Fire Chief purportedly misusing City property in violation of city policies means that the mayor and ICM are not fixing the problems when they are small and allowing them to become big where the overall costs in credibility is compromised at the negotiating table. When one city councilmember tried to bring these issues into the sunshine, she is accused of “leaking information” by revealing problems that have been long concealed. These small problems turned into bigger ones all due to their negligence.

  • Hugh Tebault says:

    Sad to see Alameda drop so low in the morals department. There used to be some honor in town, but there does not seem to be much now. An attitude not of a servant-employee as a public employee should be, but of little crime bosses all under “cover” of various state laws.
    When the city uses the bureau of electricity to “get” money for the general fund by simply raising rates, rather than a vote of the people, you know there are problems. Too much money, too little citizen control leads to this abuse.
    A public employee should NEVER get a retirement that starts before 65 and is juiced to sometimes exceed their total pay when employed. Atlas shrugged…

  • Anthony says:

    WOW. It is mind boggling to me what is going on here. Are you really kidding me. I never hear AANY residents complain about how much a fire fighter makes when he / she is saving a life. Most people on this island are probably making 100k a year, that is about what is needed to make ends meet with a family of four these days. I know this is hard for the old timers to understand but that is reality. The home they bought 30 years ago for less than 20k, same house now is over 600k. Pension reform needs to be looked at and I agree but out firefighters are being stalled by the mayor and the city manager. And ALL OF YOU are asleep at the wheel on this. The Mayor and City Council spent 100k on a special election, that we could of had in June or November. They spent god knows how much prosecuting one of our councilmembers. The City Manager has a horrific track record of promoting financial deals for her friends, she has horrible record of past employment, she is making 200k a year and nobody on this bloody island is saying anything. Her and her cronie Beverly, tried to change the charter, at midnight, they tried to change the rules of campaign finance, quickly with little or no public discussion and now this, she wants to sweep this under the rug. Our tax dollars are being wasted people…wake up and lets pressure the Mayor and Council to fire the City Manager, she is an outsider that is letting too many things go by!!

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    I think it is a positive step that the ICM and Mayor stepped in as quickly as they did to correct this situation. It is unfortunate that the agreement between the Fire Chief and the previous City manager was verbal in nature and not actually recorded on paper. This is a practice that should not be allowed in City contracting practices.

    I agree completely with other comments, there are many problems with Alameda City Government at this time, including alleged corruption, fiscal mismanagement and cronyism, and the ongoing lack of direction over what to do with the former Naval Air Station.

    What Alameda needs most right now is someone new to get involved at City Hall who wants to serve in the interests of the citizens of Alameda, not another from the same list of people who are responsible for the problems we are currently experiencing.

    That is why I am running for City Council, and why I encourage you to visit my site at http://www.adamforalameda.com to learn about what I believe in, and my commitment to open and transparent government in service to my neighbors in Alameda.

  • Michael says:

    Well, I for one am extremely relieved that it was all just a terrible misunderstanding.

    I am so glad that this is not a possible case of a city employee helping himself to city property for personal use, not to mention any possible unintended tax consequences. Phew, what a relief!

    I’m also glad that the notion that it was possibly not in his contract proved to be trumped by the compelling assertion that he’d had a conversation a long time ago that amended his written contract.

    And, what an absolute breath of fresh air it is that written city contracts are easily and effectively amended by verbal communication. Thank god it is so easy to change these things! I mean, what are you supposed to do? Get out an eraser and start scribbling new changes into a nicely typed contract? What a mess! This is much easier.

    Personally, I can see how someone only making “a base salary of $195,702 and a monthly car allowance of $250” is absolutely entitled to free gas for his BMW. I cannot believe anyone would suggest otherwise.

    Just because we’re in a never-ending recession and millions of people are out of work does not mean that now is the time to get cranky over gas money for low-paid public servants, especially heroic firemen.

    As far as I’m concerned this is for sure a one-off situation. There is no way that any other city employee does anything in any way similar to helping himself to city property (which was not the case here).

    If they do, and I don’t think they do, it’s obviously a case of mis-communication.

    I just hope that the City Manager doesn’t ask for several years of gas money back. Or, god forbid, call for his resignation. That would be completely uncalled for. Where oh where could the city ever find someone willing to do this thankless task for the same or less compensation?

    Yes, I can sleep well at night now, knowing that Alameda government is in such good hands and responsibly managed.

  • DC says:

    Of course this was just a miscommunication, what was I thinking? ?

  • DRM says:

    B. Thomas:

    There was no employment agreement and our current CA was the CA for at least a year when Kapler was hired.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Michele- re the Lena Tam investigation:

    The City’s attorney responded to Ms Tam’s defense attorney’s John Keker’s letter on August 4th, and has urged the DA to proceed to a Grand Jury so that this important issue facing Alameda can be resolved as quickly as possible.

    See http://www.scribd.com/doc/36172689/City-of-Alameda-Letter-to-District-Attorney-August-4th-2010 for the full letter to the District Attorney.

  • tom charron says:

    For those taxpayers interested.
    Alameda 2009 Fire Department Staff Salaries And yearly Payouts.


  • Don Helgerson says:

    Mr. Kapler makes $195K per year and he needs to steal gas fom his employer to keep his BMW rolling? Give me a break. I was a Captain in the Rochester, MN Fire Department when David Kapler was hired as Chief in 1992. In my opinion….this man does not have an honest bone in his body.

    Sooner or later, in my opinion, Alameda city officials will realize that they (like Rochester MN, Campbell CA, Douglas Fire District NV) have been duped by a very slick con man. Hats off to Ms. Lam for being a little quicker on the up-take than most.

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