Peter Carpenter leaves retirement to challenge fire board incumbents

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

Menlo Park Fire Protection Distrtict Board members Virginia Chang Kiraly and Rob Silano are fighting to keep their seats against two challengers who are familiar with the district, and say that the board is on the wrong path.

Menlo Park residents Peter Carpenter, 80, and Sean Ballard, 43, are running against Silano, 68, and Kiraly, 56, for the two seats up for grabs in November. The board oversees the fire district which serves East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, west Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks.

Carpenter and Ballard are running as a slate against the two incumbents on a platform saying that the board is currently “struggling to function,” as Ballard put it.

Carpenter said that the board is currently childishly micromanaging Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman, and prolonging decisions from being made. He said that because of the micromanagement, it will be hard for the board to recruit a new fire chief when Schapelhouman retires.

But incumbent Silano disagreed that the board was micromanaging the chief.

“Asking for specifics and facts should not be interpreted as micromanagement, but as effective oversight by the board,” Silano wrote to the Post.

But for her part, Kiraly agrees that her fellow board members have been micromanaging Schapelhouman.

She said that micromanaging of the chief resulted in a house owned by the fire district on Chilco Street in Menlo Park near Fire Station 77 remaining unpainted and a blight in the neighborhood. Schapelhouman wanted to use discretionary money from his budget to repair and paint the house, but board members objected and wanted the project to be a board decision.

The candidates

Carpenter has been on and off the board since 2001, serving a total of for 15 years before leaving the board two years ago. At that point, said he would not seek another four years on the board.

Carpenter said he was trying to get a slate of two people to run against Kiraly and Silano. However, one of the candidates decided not to run the day before the deadline to run, so Carpenter decided to run with Ballard.

Carpenter was once a smoke jumper for the U.S. Forest Service, held top-level corporate positions at Alza and Stanford Hospital and served on the boards of numerous nonprofit and local governments.

Ballard, 43, of Menlo Park, is involved with the district’s Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT and sits on the district’s finance committee. He previously ran for a seat on the board in 2018. He is a managing partner at investment firm Eigenvector Capital. He grew up in Menlo Park and moved back to town in 2014.

Silano, 68, has been on the board since 2011. In June, he retired from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center in San Francisco, where he worked as an intelligence officer. That’s the agency that collects, analyzes and stores automated license plate reader information collected by police agencies.

Prior to being on the board he was on Menlo Park’s parks and recreation board.

Kiraly, 56, has also been on the board since 2011. She lives in west Menlo Park, which is part of unincorporated San Mateo County. Since 2016 she has also served on the San Mateo County Harbor Board.

Both Kiraly and Silano have been endorsed by the San Mateo County Labor Council.

Picking the next chief

Despite candidates disagreeing on whether the district and Chief Schapelhouman is being micromanaged, all agree that his retirement will be a loss for the district and that the board will have to step up to choose the best replacement for him.

Kiraly said that she wants to see a chief who has worked his or her way up the rank-and-file, is a team player, community-oriented and has creative thinking befitting of leading a fire agency in Silicon Valley.

Silano said he wants to see the board involve local businesses and entities in the process and use them as a resource for the selection of the new chief.

Carpenter said he wants to see a new chief who has a distinguished career of fire service and leadership.

Ballard said that the current board will struggle to attract a quality fire chief to apply, due to the different squabbles the board has had.

16 Comments

  1. Thank you, PA Daily Post, for including me in your article. It is great to see an informational source for the fire board election. I would like to comment on your article.

    !) The fire board Costs as to repair of a house next to Station 77 at an amount of almost $200,000. Is outrageous, since the house will be destroyed to expand the station.
    2) A purchase of an Electric Fire Truck costing $1.5 million dollars is outrageous since a similar Rescue Vehicle in service costs around $100,000.00. Testa engineers stated that their organization is 4 years out to design an emergency fire truck vehicle. There are many more projects that can be identified.
    These two topics might be a good follow up article for your newspaper.

    My answer to your questionnaire contains a lot more information as to Micro-management, and our fire board majority using outstanding stewards of district resources and a balance budget.
    As any elected “oversight board or Council” rules under ” Majority Rules”. On every occasion, our fire board had a discussion, facts presented, and a vote, in which Director Kirlay was not in the majority. Please review my entire answer. You will see that our fire board, as a majority is great steward of our tax payer funds. We have an open and transparent fire board. We have great discussions. We review each agenda item and as any governing body “majority rules”.
    2) Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Ballard are not voting members of our fire board. Mr. Ballard only sits as a NON- Voting Member on our Finance Committee. Mr. Ballard chairs the CCM Volunteer Group. At our last Special Meeting, all 3 mayor volunteer groups requested the CCM to be dissolved. The fire district has no MOU or contract with the CCM. As some of the volunteer groups stated” The CCM Group was forced down their throat” by the fire district. The chief did not keep the fire board informed, it was the individual contacts by Director Bernstein and myself as members of the Emergency Preparedness Committee, that we both requested a Special Meeting with the majority of the fire board concurrence. This is not mic-management, its good governance.
    Another good follow up story for your newspaper. The u-tube recording of that Special meeting did not work???????? There is no recording?

    Please review my answers submitted to the Post below:

    Tell us something that the council/board did this year that you disagreed with. What would you
    have done differently?

    We are going in the right direction. Director Jones, as fire board president has done a creditable job. The current fire board is very transparent and works within its budget. All our current fire board members strive to advance the primary goals to “Keep Our Community Safe.”. Good response times, no citizen complaints, and a well trained and equipped agency are central to maintain this goal. We have a balanced budget, strong reserves, and we pay down our CALPERS debt yearly. In fact, if necessary, we could presently pay off our CALPERS with our strong reserves.

    All our current new fire stations 2 and 6 were paid for from our tax dollars set aside. Presently, our station 4 approved construction project has funds already set aside for that construction.

    A current charge of micromanagement of the chief was bought against our current board by Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Ballard. This is a false charge, the truth being it is not micromanagement it is appropriate fire board oversight. The fire board President and our entire board work together. Many projects that were rejected too costly and would not benefit the whole community served by the fire district. A purchase of an electric fire rescue vehicle costing $1.5 million dollars, when the current vehicles used by the fire district cost in the $100,000 range fully equipped. With more than $200,000 of unauthorized funds used to repair the Chico House for a Battalion Chief Residence, the fire board rejected any additional expenditure of funds for that purpose since Station 2 has residential lodging for the Battalion Chief’s.

    Our fire board rejected a proposal to construct a $600,000 security gate, at the East Palo Warehouse that house’s our DHS/FEMA Task Force 3 Division, opting instead of a manually operated gate would cost about $1,000. (Another example of inappropriate fiscal oversight)

    In some of the presentations from the Chief, to the board, if he does not communicate or explain his reasoning or ideas, the board will naturedly require more information. In these situations, asking for specifics and facts should not be interrupted as micromanagement, but as effective oversight by the board. Specific questions and facts could by some, be interpreted as “Micromanagement”.
    The board have shown your tax funds are in good hands. Many items that come in front of the board are a tremendous cost to the taxpayer. We as a board would not be good stewards of our fire district expenditures if we did not rightfully request further information or an explanation or documentation when considered necessary. I fail to understand what Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Ballard are referring to in their criticism of the board. Close oversight by the board of taxpayer’s money is effective fiscal management and should not be criticized but lauded. Mr. Carpenter has prior service on the fire board and well knows that we continue to provide great service, maintain growth of our facilities, and professionalism of fire personnel that serve our community.

    The current fire board has a vast public safety experience. Two board members are retired public safety managers in the federal, state, and local government with the combined experience of over 75 years. We have a former CEO of a non- profit, and 2 former financial administrators. A united, multi-talented, combination of individuals to oversee a governmental organization.

    The present Fire Board members all hold graduate degrees to include many specialized training hours involving management, budget, manpower allocation, public safety and emergency management.

    Operational and Administrative decisions have always fallen to the chief and his staff for follow up and action. It is when policies and procedures have a tremendous impact on the organization, involving strategic and financial planning could be interpreted as “micro- management”. The Fire Board of Directors oversees fire protection, policy, budget and staff related items. The chief gets his authority, according to the state of California, as the chief by the delegation of authority from the fire board, just as a city manager gets their authority from their council or governing board. Disagreements involving large expenses are the responsibility of the fire board to ensure tax dollars are used more cost effectively.

    • Silano is long-winded but doesn’t say very much, and he’s barely literate, as this shows. He also didn’t answer the question — who is responsible for stopping the chief from fixing up the house at Station 77?

  2. “40 + ” what? Years? Minutes? Eons? Dollars?

    If you’re talking about law enforcement experience, Barney Fife had a lot of years on the job too, but it didn’t give him good judgment.

    What’s the problem with maintaining a house the district owns? I realize it’s not the most expensive or the whitest neighborhood in the district, but you’d think the district would be a good neighbor and not let an eyesore persist. Or maybe because the house isn’t in Atherton, it’s OK to let it get run down?

    At least you’re making it clear who the micro-manager is.

  3. So Peter Carpenter wants back on the board? OK, some questions that deserve straight answers:

    1. who started the feud with Atherton that caused that town’s council to seriously consider detaching from the district?

    2. Why did the district go for 11 years without a firefighters contract during Carpenter’s tenure?

    3. Why did the California Public Employment Relations Board order the district to pay $1.5 million and raise firefighters’ pay 18% in 2015? Who on the board screwed that up?

    4. Why would anybody let Carpenter back on the board with a record like that?

  4. I am proud to endorse Rob Silano for re-election to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board. Rob was a real cop, not a grammar cop. He brings a wealth of public safety experience to his duties on the Board. Most importantly, Rob places the safety and well being of district residents in the forefront of all he does on the Board. He has earned another term and district residents will be well served, fiscally and safety wise, with Rob on the Board.
    James McLaughlin, Menlo Park

  5. So, Can somebody please just answer the question “Straight Answer Please” posed? Who is responsible from the micromanagement? Why can’t you paint a damn house? I can’t believe that costs the 200K that Rob Silano mentions in his “answer” to paint the house and make it at least look presentable. I had thought I might vote for Rob Silano but given the noncoherent answer above, he just lost my vote.

  6. More than $200,000 of unauthorized funds used to repair the Chico House for a Battalion Chief residence. Chief overspent his authority limit. This was not just a new coat of paint or a minor clean up. The fire board majority rejected any additional expenditure of funds for that purpose since Station 2 has residential lodging for a Battalion Chief. Repairing a house to spend that much money? To tear it down to expand Station 77. A waist of taxpayer funds.

  7. The fire board has an obligation to thoroughly review all expenses and if that’s called micro-management then it’s okay by me. Effective oversight of all taxpayers money is critical. It doesn’t seem practical to renovate, paint-or do whatever, to the chief’s residence if the current structure is livable. Taxpayer funds won’t are not used to renovate my house! As for the tag team of Carpenter and Ballard; I’ll keep my vote with the incumbents. Both the San Mateo County and Menlo Park Firefighters Associations endorsed Rob Silano for re-election so that’s more then enough for me. And Mr. Silano has served the citizens and board very well during his tenure. Besides, why would I vote to place Carpenter on the board again! His on again, off again position on the board over 15 years tells me he’s way too casual about serving. He left 2 years ago and now- once again- wants to return? And Ballard; almost everyone deserves a second chance [Portion deleted — the author makes specific legal allegations that shouldn’t be published unless they’re verified. The Post is in the process of attempting to verify them.] Lastly, I believe any reasonable review of Chief Schapelhoumnan’s relationship and “issues” with the board will find that the board has been more than accommodating to the chief on a variety of professional and personal matters. While I applaud his service, he, like everyone else in every walk of life, is replaceable. Should the chief leave his position, I’m sure a qualified candidate will be found. The board should not be held hostage for any reason or by any one individual.

  8. If $200,000 was too much for the board’s taste, why not agree to a coat of paint at a lower price? It seems unconscionable that an incumbent like Silano would allow a district-owned property to become run down. It’s not a question of 200K or nothing. It’s a question of whether the board can work together to solve a problem. Apparently they can’t.

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