Fire board member who said he supported chief called him insubordinate in a private email

This story was originally published Aug. 6 in the Daily Post. To get all of the local news, pick up the Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Menlo Park fire board member Rob Silano accused now-retired chief Harold Schapelhouman of being “disrespectful” and “insubordinate” for not considering an idea of his, according to an email obtained by the Daily Post.

The email contradicts Silano’s claim that he was a supporter of Schapelhouman’s.

Schapelhouman retired on June 30 after 40 years with Menlo Park Fire Protection District, which serves Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and North Fair Oaks.

The Post submitted a request with the fire district for any emails between May 1 and 19 sent by the chief or board regarding Schapelhouman’s retirement.

The district initially released three emails and said a fourth was being withheld due to attorney-client privilege.

But those three emails revealed some turbulence between the board and its chief before his retirement. In a May 15 email, for instance, Schapelhouman says to Board President Jim McLaughlin that an earlier email from Silano was “ridiculous” and “the list of slights, nasty comments and his own unacceptable behaviors goes on.”

The Post asked Silano about the email last month. Silano said if he hated Schapelhouman, he would not have alerted the area’s state and federal lawmakers to Schapelhouman’s retirement so they could recognize Schapelhouman’s long and storied career.

It appeared that Silano was trying to portray his relationship with the chief as being positive.

At the time, the district was withholding Silano’s email to Schapelhouman.

The Post then appealed to the district to release the Silano email, arguing that if the only reason it was being withheld was because the district’s legal council was copied on the email, that wasn’t enough to allow the district to claim it was protected by attorney-client work privilege. The Post cited a case where the mere act of adding a lawyer to the CC line of an email wasn’t enough to say an email was privileged.

The fire district reconsidered and released the Silano email, which contained two emails from Silano.

The email begins with a request from Silano to put on the board’s agenda a discussion about state legislation regarding fire agencies that have ambulances.

The Menlo fire district does not have ambulance services. After Menlo fire paramedics treat a patient, the person is taken by a private ambulance on contract with the county to the hospital. The only fire agency in the area with ambulances is Palo Alto.

Schapelhouman responded on May 14, saying that he and two other Menlo fire employees were still in the office at 1:30 a.m. and Silano’s request will not go on the board’s May 18 agenda.

“Unless we added ambulance services, which I’m pretty sure we have not done, that’s who this would apply to!” Schapelhouman wrote.

Silano said Schapelhouman was insubordinate because of the denial and the explanation for it.

Silano in his email explains that since the board is part of a Joint Powers Authority with most of the county’s fire districts and departments for a contract for ambulance services, he suggests the arrangement in the bill has “many problem areas.” He says he would have liked to discuss the issue with the board.

“Once again you have narrowed and restricted our authority by not placing items on the agenda. You have overstepped your authority, forgetting you work for the fire board, not the other way around. Your continued insubordination and conduct is unprofessional and disrespectful to my fellow board members and myself. This is not ‘micromanagement,’ but good governance. We as a fire board are accountable to the voters in our district. Thinking outside of the box is a concept that our fire district is famous and known for,” Silano said.

The Post contacted Silano yesterday to discuss the email, but he said the email stands on its own.


  1. The next chief will have his hands full with a director like Silano who says one thing in private and the opposite in public. How can anybody work for a director like that?

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