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  Firefighters Back to Work?
January 28, 2004

Absent a move by the “Agenda Junta” to block it from the Agenda (See TOM BUTT E-FORUM January 6, 2004, “Administrative Junta Seizes reigns of Power in Richmond”), I intend to bring a motion before the City Council on February 3 to bring the 18 laid-off firefighters back to work.


This City is simply paralyzed with inaction. There is no movement. Something has to be done. And most depressing of all, neither the City nor Local 188 has shown any leadership in this matter whatsoever, and both should be ashamed and embarrassed.


According to City management, Local 188 has consistently refused to consider any cost sharing of benefits in order to control the upward spiraling budget. Cost sharing is being done statewide in other cities and counties. Instead of offering substantive proposals, Local 188 has successfully played the media like a fine musical instrument and plumbed a reservoir of sympathy, or at least, concern, among a substantial portion of the citizenry. The union’s theatrics reached an abysmal low point at last night’s City Council meeting when they paraded a badly burned and disfigured (and obviously very uncomfortable) woman who had also lost her child in a fire before the City Council and the public. Whatever happened to this unfortunate woman clearly occurred before the layoffs, so there was no relevancy whatsoever – only gratuitous violence to her privacy and self respect.


The City is no better. The City’s negotiator, Human Resources Director Cedric Williams, is in my opinion, ineffective and incapable in that role. I have no confidence in his ability to produce results. Neither Mr. Williams nor any other management staff member has been able to provide the information I and others on the City Council have requested about union negotiations and related policy issues. It appears that Mr. Williams does not even understand the process himself. Fire Department management is in chaos. The most recent fire chief is on disability leave and essentially retired. The most recent second in command is or is not on disability leave depending on who you talk to and when. The current apparent acting fire chief isn’t saying anything. No one on City management staff has stepped forward in weeks to discuss issues of public safety with the public and the media. The City Council has been left hanging. Finally, no one has been able to tell the City Council what the current budget is or how much money the City has. It’s no wonder that the City’s bond rating has recently been dropped.


Inter-departmental collaboration is at an all time low as turf wars and pettiness pit department against department in a selfish scramble to hoard precious diminishing assets. Times like these should motivate employees to be innovative, work harder and seek new and creative solutions for old problems. Exactly the opposite is happening. This city is literally falling apart.


Under the circumstances, I believe it is prudent to take immediate steps to alleviate any real or imagined perceptions about significantly diminished public safety by reversing the January 1 layoffs. There will be pain in other areas, probably in Library, Park and Recreational Services. There will also be some pain in the firehouses as firefighters find some of their once lucrative exploitations of the system curtailed.


My request to place this on the agenda was met with derision by some of my colleagues who suggested a solution should be a product of collaboration – expected to occur at an upcoming retreat on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning at the Harbormaster Building in Marina Bay. I agree, and I hope for significant progress. I just want to be sure that if a resolution is reached, it will be on next week’s Agenda for action. If one is not reached collaboratively, I intend to introduce one. As a noticed City Council meeting, this retreat is open to the public, and the public is certainly invited to witness the level of leadership exercised by their City council under the current trying circumstances.