Council Chair Bates Opines Fire Staffing Still Personnel, Managment Issue

Updated 6 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Mark Bates, council chairman
Mark Bates, council chairman

A neighborhood zoning issue may bring out citizen dissent regarding a structure in front of a St. Mary’s Hospital parking garage.  Formerly a yogurt shop and small restaurant, the owner of property at 2800 Fifth Avenue discovered it is zone R2 (single family) and want it classified as C-1. According to a summation at the Thursday work session, the owner wants to open a gun shop in the space.

The site has been unoccupied for at least a year.

Some citizen input may occur on the allegations of the administration that the Huntington Fire Department has through 2012 documentation provided by Mayor Wolfe suggested possible sick day indiscretions.

At a Wednesday’s  finance meeting, members of council and the administration heard that firefighters strongly object to the policy of not calling in a replacement (unscheduled overtime) for those that call in sick.

Several council members criticized the policy that apparently groups all called in  sick days as non-replaceable when unscheduled overtime is triggered.  

Council member  suggested   that the policy be revisited. Steve Williams joined with that suggestion. Joyce Clark and Rebecca Thacker both concluded short-staffing was unacceptable.

One source stated in the private sector, some employers (such as Dow Chemicals) hold a sick day request  prior to or after a vacation or holiday to higher scrutiny, requiring either a physician’s statement or designation as time off without pay. Neither council nor the administration has proposed such a revision.

Former mayoral candidate Dale Anderson II in an HNN opinion column praised the Wolfe Administration for early transparency. Having seen the firefighter sick day document, Anderson wrote that “firefighters must show up for work,” believing himself justification exists for a “pattern of misconduct.”

He chided council  for differing the issue to the administration and fire chief, inferring that misuse of funds may be involved and criticized the fire fighters for allegedly “extorting”  residents by its repeated cries about safety and staff shortages.

Council chairman Mark Bates told HNN,  “To my knowledge no one has been disciplined for sick leave abuse. The City Council by charter cannot involve itself in personnel  issues. That is the Mayor’s responsibility. This council under the leadership of Finance Chairman Steve Williams found dollars to fully fund the Fire Department , hire 11 new firefighters and restore the unscheduled OT budget a month early (June 2012)  so the minimum staffing levels could return to 25 people per shift  without the $3 million dollar fee increase that the Mayor proposed.”

(Editor’s Note:  Ten new firefighter hires now in training will reduce the pressure on the U-OT line item when they start at firehouses in early October. Funding for the one unfilled position has gone into the U-OT budget  )

Bates continued that while Dale Anderson II is entitled to his opinion, “he is making an allegation against City Council without fully doing his homework. This concern is an employee management issue.”

Joyce Clark, who on Wednesday  called for an easing on the sick day replacement policy, told HNN Sunday evening at this time council intervention would be premature.

As the newbie on council, she acknowledged the body’s overall fiscal responsibility while explaining that the fire chief and mayor should be given an opportunity to “address it. Council should not have to micro-manage.”

The documents distributed at the finance meeting represented seven months.

“This is the first report I have seen about any absences, call-ins or stuff [since replacing the late Jim Ritter in June]. To say that it has been going on longer, I have no knowledge of that.”

Clark agreed that the matter is not totally the responsibility of the Mayor and fire department.

“Ultimately, the council is fiscally responsible. But this is a personnel issue that needs to be worked out within the department with the mayor’s guidance.  We give them a chance to work it out. If it can’t be [resolved by them], then, council should by all means get involved.”

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