Dennis Thomas, owner of Robinson’s Pharmacy, has lived in El Dorado County his entire life. When he learned his good friend Bruce Lacher was retiring as chief of the El Dorado County Fire District, Thomas decided to further serve his community by running for the director position of Division 2 of the county Fire Board.
“I’m not a firefighter and I don’t have a family member who is,” Thomas said, referring to his opponent, Michael Dennis, whose son is a firefighter and works for local union. “You cannot be objective when you have a financial obligation to a family member.” Dennis is also backed by the local Firefighter’s Union. Thomas called the entire circumstance “a true conflict of interest.”
Thomas said his qualifications include running a “fairly complex business with regulations, with quite a few employees and writing a few contracts.” He said running the pharmacy is “similar in some ways to a fire department. You need to know how to run a business successfully.”
Lacher, Thomas said, thought that the businessman’s background, rising through the ranks of sweeping the floors of the pharmacy at age 17 to owning it, made Thomas a good candidate. He simply didn’t run because he didn’t want there to be a conflict of interest, Thomas said.
As the board has been working with a financial deficit over well over $1 million, Thomas said he would look to long-term solutions, and “That’s going to take a collaborative effort on all stakeholders’ parts,” he said. The district is spending money, although revenue is down, he said. “I don’t have the magic bullet. But I do know the board, the union, the public and county need to work collaboratively to solve this.” Thomas commended the union for recent concessions that would ease the financial burden.
“The union has stepped up to the plate, they’ve done a good job helping,” he said. “But that, by itself, will not solve the problem.”
Michael Dennis, the incumbent and Thomas’ opponent, grew up in New York, working in the media field, before becoming disillusioned and moving to Coloma nearly 30 years ago. He married a local woman, set up a business taking videos of whitewater rafters for purchase and continues to run a local TV station.
“I’m an entrepreneurial kind of guy,” he said.
Armed with an understanding of numbers and business and a love for the fire service, Dennis ran for a position on the board and got it. He also did it as a way to keep close to his son, a firefighter who works for the local union.
Dennis is working hard to identify problems, such as the recent loss of an ambulance and “the potential in the near future” to lose an engine, both cutting into service for the community.
Other issues he has found included repairing fire engines — which are “literally falling apart” — and looking at staffing, with all the issues interrelated, he said. They all deal with keeping services for the community.
“The board is terribly broken,” he said, citing the budget problems and the “administrative fat” of the district that he said could use a trimming. The board, he said, hires an auditor each year to manage the bookkeeping, and the union “figured out the budget didn’t coincide” with what county Auditor/Controller Joe Harn found. It turned out that when money had been moved, it was never deducted from its original account, he said.
In running again, Dennis wants to show the public “transparency and integrity,” saying he would “rather spend no time pointing fingers” to focus on the problems themselves.
“I don’t even know if we can fix it without a serious loss to public service,” he said. “But I’d sure like to give it a try.”