To the editor,
What is going on between the Town of North Kingstown and the North Kingstown Fire Department? Relations have been bad for the last year when the Town Council forced the firefighters to work 24 hour shifts but things could have changed for the better this week. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
The first thing that happened was that the Town Council took up the issue of the new fireboat again. Last year the previous council, of which I was a member, took up the issue during several meetings. The fire department obtained a homeland security grant of $830,000 to purchase a new boat. Our council voted to approve the purchase after several meetings and discussion and the boat was ordered.
One person emailed the council after discussions and voting to question the need for the boat. The fire department has a multi-faceted job on the water when called to service. They can fight fires, conduct medical rescues and search and rescue to name a few. We want them to be prepared with the right equipment. Councilman Dick Welch is quoted in the Standard Times as saying “I am not trying to second guess what the council did before….”He is then quoted as saying “I don’t understand the need for it….” Councilman Welch, I would say that is questioning the last council. Fire Chief Fenwick Gardiner has given the council assurances as to maintenance and manning the vessel but they are still wavering. Assistant Town Solicitor Don Maroney has said that if this council reverses itself they could open the town to liability for work already done on the boat in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last night I was reading online that the Town Council had again reversed itself in regards to the fire department in terms of a contract. I was glad to read that the town and the fire department were negotiating for a new contract. That was a positive move after all of the legal wrangling, lawyers' bills, arbitration and ill-advised and illegal ordinance changes designed to wreak havoc on the fire department. This all came after Judge Brian Stern had ordered the Town to reinstate the firefighters to their original shift last month.
Both sides had apparently hammered out a contract and it was set for a vote within the fire union on Friday. The fire union voted to approve the pact on Friday and then in an unbelievable move Saturday, the council voted 5-0 to reject the contract. My understanding is that there were handshakes between both sides after negotiations ended and the town manager signed the agreement.
Back to my original question. What is going on between the Town of North Kingstown and the North Kingstown Fire Department? What should have happened is that the council moved on the other pressing business rather than revisit the boat issue. They could have just thanked the firefighters for their work in obtaining this grant as well as the many other grants they obtained in the last year to offset costs to the tax payers.
Going back to the end of 2011 when the town's labor lawyer, Dan Kinder, presented an idea to the council to force the firefighters to work a 24-hour shift I said it was wrong. I told the council it violated collective bargaining, it would be costly to the town in terms of litigation and cause long term hard feelings with the fire department. All of that has happened. After Judge Stern came out with his original decision I asked the council to reverse their decision in August 2012 because they were violating Judge Stern's order and I was again out voted. In December 2012 Judge Stern told them to “unring the bell” as to wages, hours or work and other conditions of employment. He also ordered the town to put the firefighters back on their original schedule.
This has gone far enough. This council had an agreement with the fire department that by my reading could have saved taxpayers $1 million dollars in terms of the liability Judge Stern said may exist. I think it is time for this council to start dealing fairly with the fire department. The move they made to force the 24-hour shift has been a complete disaster. It has not saved the town money as the Republicans said it would. It has cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses and yet here we are. If you think the council should do the right thing, please email them as email@example.com.
North Kingstown resident