Monday, January 6, 2014

Kerfuffle in River City

The thing that really annoys me about this is that it brings negativity to my beloved RFD. Let me start by saying I know all of the players, most very well. I have my opinions about their strengths, their weaknesses, their personalities and their overall capabilities. Let me also say that these guys play the game at a higher level than I ever did. They know stuff that I don't, they know things about each other that I don't. That's fine by me, I don't need to know anymore.

It all started when the Fire Chief announced that he was retiring at the end of last year. That was quickly (or simultaneously) followed by a statement that he would be hired back as a Fire Administrator on a part time basis. The fire administrator position is one that appears to have been created for the chief, as we have never had one in the thirty plus years that I have been associated with the department.

The duties of the administrator will include mentoring the three announced possible successors and the administering of a contract with a private ambulance company to provided 911 transport within the city. It reportedly pays $100 per hour with no bennies, significantly less that the buck and a quarter plus benefits that he was making while chief.

He will be collecting his full pension while serving as administrator and will be limited to 960 hrs per yr. under state pension rules. There is some question as to whether the deal is allowable under the rules - the laws changed a few years ago and they appear to have different interpretations.

The three possible successors will each serve as acting chief for a three month period. All are currently division chiefs within the department. One is the ops/deputy chief, the second is the fire marshal and the third is the USAR chief. All are capable men who have been around for a long while. I consider all three to be "professional friends" and have worked with all of them.

The local paper wrote an article about the situation and the details were not well received by some of the public. The usual gadfly-malcontents are raising hell - that is to be expected. There are plenty of others who are less than thrilled as well.This article, as well as a satire/opinion column generated a significant number of responses, none supporting the deal.

That the issue has legs and will not be going away soon was proven by a second satirical/op-ed piece, one that was published this morning. I'm just guessin' that some of the city council's phones will be ringing off the hook before this is over.

The council has been strangely silent about the issue over the weekend, though I know they are aware of it. I am sure it will be discussed at the weekly meeting tomorrow night.

The union is going to discuss it at their monthly meeting later this week. Hopefully their position will be made public. The issue is too important to not take a stand.

Frankly, I find the whole deal distasteful. I don't have a problem with the idea of working after retirement - provided the rules are followed, the organization has a legitimate need and the retiree isn't merely getting a sweetheart deal to further enhance their income. In this case, I am not sure that all of these conditions are being met.

I don't like that the department will have a divided leadership for the next nine months. Each of the aspiring chiefs will not be able to set a course for the agency as their time in the hot seat will be limited. In addition, the retiring chief is a high control guy, one who excels at providing direction. I think it might be hard for him to see a course set that perhaps did not have the same destination that he had set.

That there is an uproar among the public regarding this arrangement is understandable. The numbers make it appear that the retiring chief will be getting over 300k combined pension and wages per year for working 20 hrs a week. I understand their ire. While my checking account would love a similar arrangement, I don't posses the skill set to make it happen nor would my ethos allow it.

While it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out, the fall out from it hurts. It puts a black mark on the department and the men and women who serve it. They don't deserve the negative attention.

It is my hope that this arrangement is abandoned and that after a selection process , the City Manager selects one interim chief - who if does an acceptable job, will be kept on in a permanent position. I think that is best for my beloved RFD.

Maybe I am naive, maybe I am too much of a boy scout. Regardless I don't think this is a good thing for us, the taxpayers either.

Thanks for reading,


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