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By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Priceless

Uploaded: Jan 18, 2013
I didn't know much about San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District (SRVFPD) Fire Chief, Richard Price, before last year. I may have seen his name or read a press release from the Fire District, but he was just another guy in a uniform as far as I knew.

I got to know him better when he was appointed to the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) Successor Agency Oversight Board. This Board is made up of representatives from the Taxing Agencies to share whatever is left from the dissolved Redevelopment Agencies after meeting the Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule (ROPS) approved by the State Finance Department.

Chief Price represented the Fire District on the San Ramon Oversight Board and was elected Board Chairman. He was also on the Danville Oversight Board and I think one other in the County. He put in a lot of extra time on these different Boards and Committees.

I attended the first meeting of the San Ramon Oversight Board to request a legal opinion on whether the Mudd's property could be retained by the City as part of Crow Canyon Gardens Park under Section 34181 of the Health and Safety Code. I was hoping that would be a way to keep the building from being torn down.

After I asked about getting a legal advice, Chief Price thanked me. He thanked me! I was genuinely surprised.

Later I found out that he wasn't even being paid to be Fire Chief last year. Even though his official retirement started this year, he took his pension last year and continued to serve as Fire Chief during 2012 for $1 a month.

Some cynics might say, "Why not, since he was already getting a pension for more than his previous year's salary," But why should he, since he would get the pension anyway. Why continue in the job for another year for what amounted to no pay?

That's what Richard Price is about. It's not about money. He loves being a firefighter and started as a volunteer at 17. He joined the San Mateo County Fire Department in December of 1979. I asked him what the salary and benefits were for new firefighters back then.

"I don't remember what the salary and benefits were at that time. I can tell you that neither had anything to do with my decision to become a firefighter. I was solely attracted to the work and responsibilities. The pay and benefits did grow over my career but they were always secondary to my love for the job and my desire to serve the community."

Again for those who object to firefighter salaries and benefits today, which are now being restructured for new hires because of excesses that built up over the years, those like Price who started 30 years ago didn't do it for the money, because it wasn't there back then, and it isn't there as much anymore now.

I asked Chief Price about a comment posted on the Danville Express by a Concerned Danville business owner:

"I have spoken with several members of the rank-n-file members of SRVFPD and they are disgusted with the administration of the district. Morale is at an all-time low."

Chief Price replied:

"The District has been in concession bargaining for nearly two years with its labor group. Protracted contract negotiations, especially when you are proposing to reduce benefits, are never good for morale. The Fire Chief has a challenging role leading the organization while at the same time being the Fire Chief for the community of 180,000. Sometimes what is best for the community is not what is best for the employees. It is easy to be popular with the rank and file. The challenge today is doing the right thing for the community and the taxpayers and still keeping morale high."

Price started with the SRVFPD in 2006 and was promoted to Fire Chief in 2008. This is from the Press Release sent out by Kimberly French on July 25, 2008:

"(Chief Price) holds a Master's Degree in Public Administration from California State University at Hayward and is a recent graduate of Harvard University's, Kennedy School of Government, Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program. Price is a certified Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and is currently attending the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy in Maryland."

I asked if his graduate education was paid for by the San Mateo County Fire Department.

"No, I personally paid for all my degrees. The Kennedy school was a three-week summer executive program."

After Richard Price was promoted to Fire Chief he set about to have the SRVFPD accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI). In 2010 the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District became the first agency in Contra Costa County and only the sixth fire department in the State of California to achieve international accreditation.

I asked Chief Price if it was his intention when he became Chief to seek accreditation.

"Yes, I had always planned to pursue accreditation as the chief. It was in the five-year strategic plan that began in 2008 that I helped draft as the assistant chief. I wanted to become the fire chief for many reasons but they were all centered around preserving and improving on the quality of fire and ems services provided by the district. Being the fire chief in your home town is quite a privilege and it keeps your responsibilities front and center on a daily basis."

Price mentions the five year Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan, Standards of Cover, Operating Budget, and Self-Assessment Manual are all available for download from the Fire District's
Key Documents web page.

Almost two years ago Chief Price came up with an iPhone App to summon CPR help for heart attack victims. I asked Chief Price about his interest in technology in redesigning the Fire District website and creating the iPhone App for victims of heart attacks.

"I have always had a love of technology. If I didn't become a firefighter I'm sure I would have a high tech career. It has been a hobby and second love for many, many years. I'm very excited to be able combine fire/ems and tech with the new PulsePoint Foundation. Best of both worlds for me. I'm proud of what I have accomplished in the District but the foundation now gives me the platform to make a much larger impact on society. Nearly 1,000 people a day die from cardiac arrest and I intend on trying to lower that number significantly."

Now that Price is retired from heading up the SRVFPD, he's taken over as President of PulsePoint Foundation, also for no pay. Take a look at the high-powered Board of Directors and Advisors he recruited. This guy could have chosen a tech career and made big bucks like them, but became a firefighter to save lives instead.

"Our primary goal is to extend the reach of the app to many more communities. We are also rewriting the app to add additional reliability functionality as we gain real world experience. The app has been activated for more than 600 cardiac emergencies and is downloaded by 100 new citizen rescuers every day."

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by John Madison, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 22, 2013 at 9:54 am

Having your sister-in-law sitting on the Board of Directors setting compensation policies? PRICELESS......


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 22, 2013 at 11:01 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

John,

I asked Chief Price about Jennifer Price. He said she is married to his brother, who is also a firefighter in the SRVFPD.

People who run for Special Districts usually know someone in the District, or might be related to an employee, or have some other interest in what the District does. It's good to get candidates who know what a District does, even if it is through a relative or spouse.

Gordon Dakin won a seat on the SRVFPD Board last November. Dakin's cousin is in the Firefighter's union in San Ramon and Dakin is a Fire Chief in Alameda County. So Dakin knows both sides of union negotiations. Being related to someone doesn't mean he will take that person's side, as most people know from our own family histories.

There's not much glamour being on the Fire District Board of Directors (and less being a Director of the sewer district), but knowledgeable people need to show an interest in Special Districts and more people should run for them. So if anyone reading this wants to change that, run for office yourself.

I have put my money (yes it costs $$ even to file) where my mouth is to run for a Special District with little or no glory for it. I have no desire to be on the Fire District Board. I know very little about it, and I like to know what I'm doing when I'm doing it. So that's why we get Directors and candidates with relatives or spouses in the Department.

For those who want to learn about the SRVFPD, or keep an eye on those who were elected, attend the meetings and study the meeting packages and minutes instead of assuming that all relationships result in preferential treatment.

Roz


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Kevin, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 22, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Roz, you are very sweet and innocent. I like you. I hope you can someday take a critical view of the costs you continue to defend. Chief Price may be a nice man but his employment is NOT priceless. All city employees come at a price. Unfortunately, even though he has been paid a handsome salary and excessive pension benefits those benefits still aren't paid for. The Price is still going up even though his employment has ended. We will effectively be paying for two chiefs…two firefighters (employed and retired) etc… Money will continue to come from the general fund, for years or decades, to cover the unfunded pension and health care liability owed to Mr. Price and others; for past work.

While you seem to support just about every tax increase that isn't really fair when you consider the increased taxes are going to support six figure pensions and lifetime medical benefits (for the employee and family). When will the cycle of increasing compensation that isn't affordable, followed by the city looking for ways to increase revenue by raising taxes and fees to support the irresponsible deficit spending, going to end?

Roz, we wouldn't need to continually be looking for new revenue if we managed our finances appropriately. If you spend more than you have who are you going to tax to cover your deficit?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by John Madison, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 23, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Of course we now know the nepotism, it was all so discreetly covered up for years...shame on the past fire board members and CONGHRATULATIONS to the retirement classes of 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Hard to fathom you get free healthcare insurance until you pass away. We will pay for YOUR benefits and expenses for probably the next 35 years....much longer than you ever worked for us
Seems unfair...
John


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 24, 2013 at 9:01 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Kevin,

Thanks for the nice comment, but the SRVFPD is an independent District covering Alamo, Danville, Blackhawk, San Ramon, and Tassajara Valley. It isn't part of the San Ramon City government. So Price's pension isn't paid by the City.

Also CALPERS pensions are prorated based on years of service in each District where the individual work. Chief Price worked at the SRVFPD for about 6.5 years and for San Mateo County for the other 27 years. So most of Price's pension will come from San Mateo and not here.

As far as San Ramon's City pensions, Mayor Wilson and the City Council issued bonds to cover those pensions about five years ago; so our City Government has an established pension fund. Some of your political friends were critical of it at that time, but it's fortunate our City Council was forward thinking and planned ahead.

Roz


 +  Like this comment
Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I feel a musical number coming on, "Don't cry for me, San Ramonnnnn!"

Before we get all choked up about Chief Price's altruistic service for a dollar, it might be worthwhile to read this older posted article from early in 2012:

Web Link

For those who want the Cliff's notes, here is a key paragraph:

"A small correction to the article -- my math shows that Chief Price will receive 96 percent (32 years times 3 percent) of his last spiked year of salary, overtime, hazard pay, etc., which equals an annual pension of $249,994/yr ($260,410 times 96 percent). That's $46,000 over his working wage (see the dictionary for spiking). That doesn't even include his medical benefits, which will be paid in full until he is 65 years old.

"If he collects his pension for 40 years, he will receive $10 million! Are you kidding me!!"

(Back to my own comments, now.) Without knowing for sure, my speculation is that Chief Price realized that the anti-spiking provisions were going to reduce his lifetime pension to being "only" 96 percent of his un-spiked salary, whereas if he retired before the anti-spiking provisions kicked in, he'd be able to get 96% of the "spiked" amount, possibly in the range of an additional $45-50k per year. So, by going early, his lifetime pension payouts were likely increased by $1-2 million (additional). (And he's still quite young, at least based on the photo.)

That said, he could have just retired completely. Maybe he was feeling some guilt pangs over his fully-legal bit of "retirement planning" expertise. I don't blame Chief Price for this. I DO blame an overly-friendly board, various state and local govt. officials (elected and otherwise), and the voters who keep electing them. But let's not get too choked up about it....


 +  Like this comment
Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 24, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Just to clarify something from the above post. The article I linked was just one of the first ones that came up from a quick Google search, and I had nothing to do with it (and in fact quoted from it without permission). The rest of the comments are mine, however.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

C. R. Mudgeon,

You are correct that Chief Price took advantage of spiking in 2011. I asked him about that.

Me: "The Other category is for unpaid Overtime and Vacation. This looks like what is called, 'spiking,' and potentially adds $50K to your annual pension. I plan to write a favorable blog, but I will have to explain this. What do you have to say about it?"

Price: "Yes, the Other category is for leave not taken, but paid out instead. This practice is not allowed any more for new employees. Other also includes differential pays such as longevity."

But once again he had choices about what to do with the additional money. He could have bought a villa in Mexico and retired like a King, or he could work as President of PulsePoint for nothing. He took the money but he is still putting in time for the community, and in this case, the World.

Roz


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Johm Madison, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Roz...why do you keep continually toadying up to the power elite in San Ramon? They are ripping us off. We will not elect you to some esoteric sanitation board. Tell the truth. Their unbridled theft is the subject of a grand jury investigation. Price's brother's wife is on the Fire Board that sets compensation.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 28, 2013 at 7:48 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

John,

You have a limited perception of the "truth." I try to expand my knowledge of individuals and motivations for a more in depth perception of "truth." I don't consider myself "toadying up to the power elite," but I don't immediately attack public servants without finding out more about what they really do.

Roz


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Kevin, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Roz, are you really willing to expand your "knowledge of individuals and motivations for a more in depth perception of the "truth."". I would very much like to challenge your perception regarding the above comment, as well as your previous comments to myself.

I do not agree with your statements.



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