Prior allegations surface on Alameda fire chief
Alameda Fire Chief David Kapler, who this week faced allegations he inappropriately gassed up personal vehicles at the city’s pumps, faced similar allegations when he was a fire chief in another jurisdiction two decades ago.
Kapler resigned as chief of the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District in 1991 after allegations surfaced that he misused a department-owned vehicle. He was also accused by representatives of a casino and a builder of soliciting contributions in exchange for support on a construction project the owners of one casino sought to undertake and of a variance the other sought that would allow it to avoid installing sprinklers in a parking garage it planned to build, news reports issued at the time said. Kapler also came under fire for soliciting contributions including ski passes, a mountain bike and vacations for a program aimed at curbing department absenteeism, news reports showed.
Kapler said Friday that he was cleared of all wrongdoing in connection with the allegations in Tahoe. He said his Tahoe-Douglas contract allowed him to take a district vehicle for personal use.
“The district attorney looked into it and said there wasn’t any basis to any of the complaints out there,” Kapler said. “There was a lack of clear communication with the (fire district) board, but no evidence of any wrongdoing.”
Still, two members of the City Council said Friday that they think city leaders should investigate his conduct here further, with one of them saying he should be placed on leave while the investigation takes place.
“The very least I want is an investigation,” Councilwoman Lena Tam said Friday. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions. But these are very serious allegations.”
Tam, who said that she had raised concerns about Kapler before to city management but had been rebuffed, said that depending on the nature of the accusations, she thinks Kapler should be placed on administrative leave while an investigation takes place – something she said she was in effect asked to do when an attorney hired by Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant leveled accusations of wrongdoing at her.
Mayor Beverly Johnson said she wants the City Council to get a full briefing that explains whether the city staff who hired Kapler knew about the Tahoe-Douglas accusations and if not, how the information was missed.
According to reports in the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Kapler came under scrutiny in Tahoe after his work vehicle was spotted parked in the red zone at a Reno mall. Kapler said at the time that his contract permitted him to use a work vehicle to conduct personal business.
The reports also said that representatives from the Lake Tahoe Horizon Casino/Resort accused Kapler of asking for a fire hose that would cost between $50,000 and $60,000 in exchange for his support of a change to a county ordinance requiring them to put sprinklers in their parking garage, and representatives of a condominium project, The Ridge Tahoe, claimed that Kapler had requested a $50,000 cash contribution in exchange for the right to do more building.
Kapler told the paper at the time that there was no connection between the alleged gift requests and the variances the developer and the casino owners sought. He said the developer misinterpreted his request for cash, which he said was a “mitigation fee” he sought to pay for a fire safety refuge to address access problems at the site, and that the hose would have been purchased in place of a sprinkler system for the casino’s planned garage.
The board overseeing Kapler’s department placed him on probation and then administrative leave before he resigned. The newspaper reported that Kapler had asked that the investigation be handed over to the Douglas County, Nev. district attorney, and he said Friday that the district attorney had cleared him of wrongdoing.
The Douglas County district attorney who would have overseen the investigation could not be reached for comment Friday, and Mike Rowe, who was the fire protection district’s attorney when the allegations surfaced, said through another employee at his law firm that would not comment on the outcome of the investigation, citing attorney-client privilege.
Kapler attributed this week’s allegations to anger caused by things he’s had to do as chief. Alameda’s firefighters announced that they had taken a vote of “no confidence” in Kapler in June 2009 because they were concerned he wasn’t doing enough to maintain a safe level of staffing at the department, and the city’s firefighters and top city officials have battled over pay, benefits and staffing.
“When you’re a fire chief, sometimes not everybody’s going to like you. They’re not going to like the decisions you make, (or) what you have to work with,” Kapler said. “So this is how they take their frustrations out.”
Meanwhile, firefighters sought to distance themselves from Kapler’s troubles.
“In light of all that has been brought forth this week, I am very sad for our community. I feel like the actions of the chief here, and now this history of similar allegations against him (and similar responses) have given the Alameda Fire Department a black eye,” said Domenick Weaver, president of Alameda’s firefighters union. “I just hope that the community realizes that this is related to the Chief as an individual, and is not a reflection of the hard working men and women of the fire department, and the dedication of their lives to this community.”
Kapler came under fire early this week when photos surfaced showing him fueling a blue BMW coupe were forwarded to The Island and other media outlets. Kapler said he had an agreement with former City Manager Debra Kurita allowing him to gas up his personal vehicles, but Gallant said that agreement only extended to a Honda Ridgeline truck the city outfitted for his official use.
Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant called the conflicting stories on the verbal agreement a “miscommunication,” and she pledged to make Kapler pay for any gas he used inappropriately. She said she would also look into creating standard employment agreements for top city executives and that an audit of city fuel use was underway.
But that wasn’t enough for Johnson, who said Friday that she thinks Kapler set a bad example for other city workers.
“To be filling a personal vehicle at a city station is wrong,” Johnson said.