Retiring fire chief says board member hated him and was trying to undermine him

Daily Post Staff Writer

In the months leading up to his retirement, Menlo Park Fire District Chief Harold Schapelhouman says he was hated by one of the district’s elected board members, emails obtained by the Post from the fire district show.

Schapelhouman retired on June 30 after 40 years with the fire district that serves Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and North Fair Oaks.

In a May 15 email from Schapelhouman to Board President Jim McLaughlin regarding his retirement,  Schapelhouman mentions an email from board member Rob Silano, calling it “ridiculous.”

“I’m not looking for a fight, but I’m also not a doormat. His undermining has sunk to new levels as it’s now reported to me by one of my captains that Rob told him that he ‘hates me,’ and the list of slights, nasty comments and his own unacceptable behaviors goes on.”

The email was released to the Post through a California Public Records Request. The Post had asked the district for emails between the chief and board regarding Schapelhouman’s departure from May 1 to May 19.

Schapelhouman, who typically responded to public records requests himself while chief, turned over the emails on June 30, his last day at the district. In his email to the Post, Schapelhouman said he would not be commenting.

However, Silano’s email was not released to the Post. Schapelhouman in his response to the PRA said there were four emails that met the Post’s request but one would not be released because of attorney-client privilege.

When asked by the Post yesterday what he sent to Schapelhouman, Silano said he could not recall.

Silano also said if he hated Schapelhouman, why did he alert the area’s state and federal lawmakers to Schapelhouman’s retirement so they could recognize Schapelhouman’s long and storied career.

“I wish him a lot of luck,” Silano said. “He has tremendous talent.”

‘The trust appears to be gone’

As the Post previously reported, Schapelhouman had offered to stay on after his contract expired on June 30 until a new chief is hired, likely sometime in the early fall. But instead, the board turned down his offer and selected an interim chief, Mike Shaffer, who was Schapelhouman’s chief deputy.

Shaffer wasn’t the board’s first choice to be interim chief, the emails show. Retired deputy chief and US&R task force leader Jim Stevens turned down the interim job.

Schapelhouman was willing to serve past his announced retirement date of June 30 until a new permanent chief could be hired, but the board turned him down.

In Schapelhouman’s email to McLaughlin, he says it’s “unfortunate that the trust appears to be gone,” in terms of him and the board.

In a response, McLaughlin said the board’s decision to have an interim chief is a “business decision” and is “based on what the board believes to be in the best interests of the district rather than any trust issues.”
“What percentage of your people have only known you as their commanding officer? Half, two-thirds? More? Any transition at the end of your tenure was always going to be challenging given your long distinguished service as chief. Your departure creates a vacuum others will have to work hard to fill,” McLaughlin wrote in his response to Schapelhouman.

“From my own experience, I view change of command like a relay race; I have run my leg of the race, given it my all, and now its time to pass the baton to the next runner who will do the same. You have been the ‘The Man in the Arena,’ as described by Teddy Roosevelt, for a long time, much longer than most who occupy similar positions. As for your critics, I offer what I was told under similar circumstances many years ago, ‘the eagle does not catch flies,’ or Aquila Non Capit Muscas. Your many accomplishments will continue to speak loudly long after your critics’ chatter fades away.”

Finding a new chief

McLaughlin and board member Virginia Chang Kiraly are working with recruiter Teri Black on a nanationwide search for the next fire chief, which according to a recruitment pamphlet from Black, will have finalists selected this month.

The next chief will run the district, which has 148 full-time employees and a budget of $60 million. According to the brochure, the board is looking for someone who has a reputation for “embracing new tools and approaches that enhance performance and advance organizational goals.”

Schapelhouman during his 15 years as chief introduced one of the first drone programs, and worked on various campaigns over the years, including to get burglar bars removed from buildings. He also worked on a campaign to prevent firefighters responding to emergencies from getting tickets when crossing bridges over the Bay.


    • Katrina says, “Let’s see the so called email that was not turned over to the Post …”

      Katrina did you not read the story?

      Paragraph 7 says, “Silano’s email was not released to the Post. Schapelhouman in his response to the PRA said there were four emails that met the Post’s request but one would not be released because of attorney-client privilege.”

      That means the district believes that releasing Rob’s email to Harold would violate the district’s right to attorney-client privilege. So it’s unlikely Rob’s email will ever see the light of day.

      Rob says he doesn’t recall what is in the email.

      Katrina, if you happen to know Rob, you might ask him to look through the emails stored on his computer and produce the email in question. That would settle it.

      If the email reflects Rob’s claim that he thinks Harold is a real talent, then Harold overreacted. On the other hand, if Rob lashed out at Harold and made accusations, then Rob isn’t telling the truth.

  1. During the next performance review cycle, I hope the new chief will introduce a program where employees are encouraged to contact the Post whenever their feelings have been hurt or there is an opportunity to further tarnish the reputation of the board or their fellow firefighters.

    In all seriousness, it’s sad that Schapelhouman had such poor judgement to do something like this on his last day.

  2. To SAD: what Schapelhouman did on his last day was turn over as many emails as he could in response to the Post’s lawful request.

    The only email he couldn’t release is one that Rob Silano could share in an instant. Why won’t he?

  3. It’s upsetting to see how much the Post is vetting all these comments. I had the chance to read them before they were deleted, and I don’t understand why they would be taken down. Most of the comments had the same names on them- how is that a “sock puppet”? Let’s see if the Post even approves this one.

  4. It was time for the chief to leave… A huge monetary mistake not found by the current fire chief and his staff. The fire district does not know how much or what is extent of the damage to the non firefighters group to their pension benefits. The fire board only found out about it in June, yet the chief was aware of it since December 2020, and concealed it until June 2021.

    As the meeting attachment link, the Fire Board is attempting to solve this huge monetary problem for the fire district employees..

    Here’s a story for your group. A real story that involves the district taxpayers and Fire employees affected.

    • It seems rather to me like the board’s HR committee was caught sleeping — and not doing their job — this year. And who sits on the HR committee? Silano, of course.

      If you watch the video LouAnne posted you’ll see what is meant by “sleeping” on the job.

  5. Anonymous suggests, “The only email [Schapelhouman] couldn’t release is one that Rob Silano could share in an instant. Why won’t he?”

    If Schapelhouman can’t legally release an email, the same rules apply to Silano. From the article, it’s not clear that Silano even knows what email Schapelhouman is referring to.

    I may have misread the article previously. It’s not clear that Schapelhouman instigated this, but the Post would not know to make this public records request unless Schapelhouman or someone else on the email chain (another board member perhaps) reached out to the Post with the desire to throw shade on Silano.

    At the very least, Schapelhouman is being used as a tool for an unscrupulous individual playing politics with your tax payer dollars on these public records requests.

    • I tried to comment something very similar to this but the Post did not approve my comment, as they have been vetting the comment section thoroughly and not letting people speak. Hey Post, you going to let this comment go through? May I execute my right to speak?

  6. The bottom line is this: Silano is a great board member with an insane amount of passion for the department. The Post is doing a poor job of illustrating a complete and genuine story. Simply digging for “drama” when there’s nothing else to write about. Maybe there’s a cat up a tree somewhere you guys can report on?

    • Oh, you are so right about Rob Silano. I hear a rumor that he’s up for the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Chamber of Commerce. A parade is also planned in Rob’s honor. Harold couldn’t have been the success that he was without the thoughtful, caring support of Rob Silano!!!

  7. The articles states that Schapelhouman would not be commenting. This is a perfect example of the adage, “don’t write anything in an email you wouldn’t want to read on the front page of the newspaper.”

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