Employee accuses Fire Chief of “cherry picking” promotions; San Nicolas fires back

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Acting Fire Chief Joey San Nicolas has responded to allegations of hand-picked promotions waged by Fire Lieutenant John D. Santos.

Guam – Allegations of political hiring has caused quite a stir at the Guam Fire Department.

It was just last month when Acting Guam Fire Chief Joey San Nicolas announced he was stepping down to Deputy Fire Chief. But not everyone is on board with the new position.

“His deputy position–it’s very suspicious in nature; how he slipped into this position when he opened it up on its own or [Department of Administration] opened it up for him,” quipped Fire Lieutenant John D. Santos.

To be clear, Santos isn’t applying for the deputy position. He was vying for the rank of captain instead. Only now he finds the whole promotion process highly suspect.

“Every promotion that has come–there’s been three in my 25 years and every time a promotion went down it wasn’t done the right way,” Santos alleged.

Santos says the trouble began last year when a fire captain allegedly started choosing favorites.

“He told the fire chief that [he] will teach the ProBoard classes, but [he] will start with [his] personnel. That’s where these secret classes went on. He held classes for his personnel, but his personnel called their friends and the class went from six people in the class to over 30,” he said.

And because these classes were allegedly held in secret, Santos says anyone who did not attend was unknowingly missing out on certification needed for a promotion.

“What DOA did is they changed the minimum requirements for the position,” he added.

To clarify the ProBoard’s intent, Santos even emailed Department of Administration Director Christine Baleto, questioning the new change in qualifications.

“It makes people who were waiting for promotions not even qualify because they don’t meet your new requirements. The issue is that when the fire chief decided to give ProBoard classes, he never mentioned that it will be used for promotions,” he wrote.

ProBoard is a GFD certification program that offers professional qualification classes. Santos says it was implemented a year ago by the fire chief.

Correspondence between Baleto and San Nicolas reveals that at one point, Baleto asked the fire chief what would happen to the firefighters who do not meet certifications.

San Nicolas responded with, “Personnel who decide not to pursue training and certification opportunities will not be held to any disciplinary action. However, this will affect the aforementioned personnel through the department’s new promotional track.”

But Santos believes that the new requirements are an under-handed scheme to hand-pick promotions.

For example, a certificate provided by Santos credits him for certification in the Hazardous Materials Incident class. There’s only one problem: the certificate was issued on December 15, 2016 –a full eight days before the class ended.

Santos theorizes that he was handed the certificate early because other individuals in the class were vying for a promotion. He adds that any time he’s in a class without these individuals, the certification is held back.

And the allegations get worse. Even when firefighters do manage to meet the qualifications, Santos says their applications are improperly filed.

“I submitted it into application and they threw it back into ineligibility that I didn’t turn [something] in and I flipped through [the application’s] pages and it was attached to my original application. Those documents that they said I was lacking were attached to the documentation that I provided,” he said.

At this point, Santos claims he’s reached out to DOA, his supervisors and even the fire chief himself to no avail. He says he plans on taking the matter either to the Civil Service Commission or the Attorney General’s office if nothing is done.

In response to the allegations of cherry-picking for promotions, PNC spoke with Acting Fire Chief Joey San Nicolas on the process.

When asked about the potentiality of political hiring, San Nicolas vehemently disagreed that such improprieties are taking place.

“What I did was I did several announcements. It was almost a weekly announcement via our command staff meeting where information is passed down to the firestation and via memos that these classes are ongoing; and that it was first come first serve voluntary basis–come in and take advantage of these classes while they’re being offered,” he stated.

First, he disputes the assertion that anybody would be unaware of the ProBoard classes.

“I made it a point that it be announced everywhere. And I’m very confident in my leadership and I’m very confident in the chain of command that they did not hold out any information at that point,” he said.

Multiple emails provided by the acting fire chief reveal that Station 11, the station designated to Lieutenant Santos, is, in fact, included in advertising the classes.

And since he touts that the classes necessary for promotion were industrially circulated among the firefighters, he says the only excuse left is a lack of initiative.

“It’s not for the lack of information getting out there, it’s for people not buying into this program, not reading the literature, not heeding the announcements,” he said.

He adds that there are at least three classes offered per platoon on each certification level. Each class can hold 20 to 30 individuals and in some cases, the classes were not being filled.

But what about the certificate that was handed to Lieutenant Santos a full eight days before he graduated?

Remember, Santos is alleging that he was only provided that certificate because he was in a class with individuals vying for a promotion. To that, San Nicolas says it’s probably a typo.

In a statement to PNC, San Nicolas said:

“While the dates pre-date the class ending it most likely is just the date of an earlier roster from a previous class and was inadvertently placed on all certificates. Regardless, no roster is finalized till successful passing and no certificates are issued until full completion of courses.”

And if someone does miss out on these classes, San Nicolas says it still does not preclude them from a promotion.

“We did work with DOA that develops a correspondence that says such and such did take this course pending the arrival of a certificate. And DOA has accepted that letter of validation,” he explains.

But in regards to the improper HR filing allegations, San Nicolas admits that there is at least one instance where that took place.

“We’ve only had one issue that has come up and is being addressed via DOA’s process, but again, these things are isolated and individual instances. It’s not something that applies to everyone,” he concluded.

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