Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Iron Mt, Michigan Fire Dept Questions City In Facebook Post?

The following post was made to Facebook on October 12, 2016 via the Iron Mountain Fire Department Facebook page. It addresses the city of Iron Mountain's decision to remove the Civil Service section from the city's charter via voting this November.

"One local political activist has been very vocal in his opinions about the vote to remove the Civil Service section from Iron Mountain’s city charter. But he has some facts wrong.

There are TWO civil service commissions provided for in the charter. One is for police and fire (full time only) under Act 78 of 1935, and the other is for other full time employees in other departments. The ballot question is asking the citizens if they want to remove all of it. Doing so would allow the City Manager to hire anyone for any position, without having a separate no-cost board ensuring that the applicant chosen is qualified and selected fairly.

Act 78 is a good thing. It eliminated the good-old-boy hiring system that existed in the city prior to it’s enactment in Iron Mountain, at least in the police and fire departments. It was voted in by the people of Iron Mountain, and despite what some city officials are saying, it occurred after the unions were in place, not before.

Other cities in Michigan do manage to hire fairly without Act 78. City officials have put forth Marquette as an example of that. But if you look at the contract between the City of Marquette and its firefighters, you will see that the contract creates a board that is essentially the same thing as our Act 78 Civil Service Commission. There is no such language in the contract between the City of Iron Mountain and its firefighters. In fact, eliminating the Police and Fire Civil Service Commission will place the City in violation of that contract, because certain provisions of the contract, including the grievance procedure, refer certain matters to the Civil Service Commission or to Act 78.

I encourage everyone to read Michigan Public Act 78 of 1935. It’s easy to find online with a search. You will see that all it does is create a board, independent of the council and the employees, that enforces rules in order to make sure that employees are hired, fired, disciplined, and promoted fairly. It’s free. Members of the commission are not paid. Going the other way, where all details are contained in a collective bargaining agreement, would require legal fees and arbitration to be paid for by the taxpayers rather than being handled by the independent commission at no cost.

The city is saying that except for the firefighters, nobody has a problem with eliminating the civil service process. I can’t speak for the other departments’ employees, so they may be right. I do know that none of the council members approached the firefighters’ union to ask us. I am the local president, and only one council member discussed this issue with me, and that was after I confronted him about it when I saw him in public.

Act 78 says that the City could ask the voters to rescind civil service for just police or fire - it doesn’t have to be both. So why would they want to do it this way? Here’s where we get back to the good-old-boys system of hiring.

When the City replaced the police and fire chiefs with a director and two deputy directors, they skirted around the law awfully closely. They had to do things like create a totally new department within the city in order to do it. They worded the requirements for the Director position so that none of the firefighters would qualify to apply for the position, but the police would. And when the 2 candidates from the police department both failed the exam for the position - twice - they convinced the civil service commission to change the rules so that they could give extra test points for things like resumes, regardless of their accuracy. Your current Director of Police and Fire Services had exactly 15 hours of firefighting responses in his life, and that includes anything that he might have done at those incidents, even if it was just traffic control. But he’s the one the City wanted in that position, so he’s the one they put in, and now he’s what we have instead of a fire chief. In this case the civil service commission failed to keep the good-old-boy system from winning the day. But if you have a truly independent commission that follows the law to the letter, that cannot happen. The City is still struggling with filling positions with their pre-selected underqualified applicants under the constraints of the Civil Service Commission, and that’s why they want you to vote to remove it.

Don’t let them get away with it. If the system is removed we’ll go right back to the days when council members hired their friends and family to fill positions in the city, and employee turnover will be enormous as old council members are replaced by new. Don’t forget the many people who were hired in the city about 10 years ago that were selected by the City Manager with the council’s approval. You had a public works director dumping sewage on Millie Hill, and a convicted criminal doing property assessments. If those people had been required to be hired under Civil Service (they weren’t because they were “administrative”), they would never have been hired. The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars that were wasted. Don’t let it happen again. Vote NO on November 8."

Doug Johnson
President, Iron Mountain Firefighters Assoc., IAFF Local 554


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