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Reasons for firing Cambria’s fire chief come to light

The firing and rehiring of Cambria’s fire chief caused public uproar and a shake-up of the community service district’s leadership.

But until now it was a mystery why former Cambria Community Services District General Manager Tammy Rudock abruptly fired Fire Chief Mark Miller on April 12.

It now appears Miller was fired for not informing the service district’s general manager of a tsunami warning, talking to the press, failing to keep performance evaluations up to date and a list of other faults, according to a memo given to Miller after his firing.

When Rudock fired Miller, she cited employee confidentiality and declined to give any reasons for the dismissal.

Widespread community reaction included a petition demanding Miller’s reinstatement.

A week after Rudock fired Miller, district directors unanimously voted to dismiss her. Miller returned to work May 16.

The reasons for Miller’s dismissal have not been officially disclosed, but Miller has shared with The Tribune the three-page memo Rudock gave him April 12 when she fired him, and his four-page response.

Here are summaries of the five reasons Rudock gave, and Miller’s responses:

Not informing her directly of a tsunami alert.

Miller, Rudock wrote, didn’t call her to tell her of tsunami preparations ordered by the county Office of Emergency Services on March 11. Miller said he was notified of the emergency at home in Paso Robles by phone about 2 a.m. and was in Cambria by 4 a.m. He said he called district Utilities Manager Jerry Gruber, who was responsible for seeing that the water and sewer systems were secured, and, when Gruber asked what else he could do to help, Miller asked if he would notify Rudock. Gruber did.

Miller said on that day, Rudock expressed concerns about overreacting to the alert, not about not getting a call from him.

“I received a call from her at approximately 7:15 a.m. complaining to me that I was overreacting to the situation,” Miller wrote. “She stated that ‘this is overblown. The last time, all we got was a little wave.’ ”

A reporter standing next to Miller when Rudock called that morning heard him defending his actions, saying the alert was ordered by the county Office of Emergency Services, and not responding was not an option.

An error in notices regarding weed mitigation on vacant lots.

Miller, Rudock wrote, failed to lawfully manage the district fire hazard fuel mitigation program, resulting in a lawsuit because of the omission of a hearing date in 2009.

Miller said he had followed the form used previously, made minor changes according to instructions, and sent the draft for review by district counsel, district clerk and the district manager, Rudock.

Failure to provide information in advance of a meeting.

Miller, Rudock wrote, provided incomplete information prior to a Feb. 28 meeting of a district committee working on combining some functions with the Cambria Community Healthcare District. She said Miller distributed documents at that meeting “that were not provided in advance for my review .”

Miller said Rudock didn’t tell him she wanted to review the document before the meeting until Feb. 26, a Saturday, he said, when he was in Colorado, attending a family member’s funeral.

Miller returned the next day, Sunday, and Monday morning, Feb. 28, Miller and the healthcare district manager jointly prepared a four-page document, which was lost due to a computer glitch. Miller said he redid two of the four pages in time for the meeting, but not in time for Rudock to review them.

Not keeping performance evaluations up to date.

Rudock cited an employee who been back for six weeks after medical leave who had not yet been evaluated.

Miller said firefighter evaluations are done by fire captains, and he reviews them and sends them to Rudock. The employee had only worked a few shifts before Miller left to attend the National Fire Academy, where he completed his studies for the firefighter equivalent of a master’s degree. Miller was terminated immediately upon his return to work. Miller added that Rudock only prepared one annual evaluation of his work in the two years and five months he was fire chief.

Talking to the press.

Rudock’s longest entry in her memo terminating Miller was about his handling of information on the status of two longtime fire department employees discharged in March.

Rudock charged Miller with committing a breach of “our confidentiality agreement” when, she said, he gave details to The Tribune from a March 3 meeting of the district management team meeting. He denies that he gave the information to The Tribune and, in fact, the paper’s report was based on interviews with the former employees, not Miller.

Rudock wrote, “Despite our differences of opinion on this issue, your total lack of teamwork, communications and respect for me as general manager during this process has been so severe that our professional relationship and my trust in you as fire chief is permanently broken.”

Miller said Rudock later tried to recant what she’d said in the March 3 management meeting, and asked Miller to “corroborate her account that she had not terminated them. I refused to do this in an open email dated March 14,” because “the corroboration she requested would have been a falsehood.”

Attempts by The Tribune to reach Rudock for clarification for this article were unsuccessful.

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