published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Firefighters testify to tension, worries during special magistrate meeting
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
SEBRING - Fire Union President Ross Edmunds set the tone for what local firefighters have been dealing with the past two years as the pending contract negotiations came to a head during a special magistrate meeting Monday morning.
Edmunds, who is representing the union as well as the fire department without legal guidance, explained the many concerns of the department to Special Magistrate Leonard Helfand. Issues ranging from clarity within department (Standard Operating Guidelines) to cell phone usage, to retirement fund; each were hammered out in detail during the meeting.
After testimonies from City Administrator Scott Noethlich, City Finance Director Mike Eastman and Fire Chief Brad Batz, the fire union brought up a few witnesses to share their experiences and thoughts about what has taken place during this difficult situation.
Avon Park Fire Department member Clinton Culverhouse testified on behalf of the SFD, explaining that he would probably not take a job at a department that offered a 401k-like retirement plan.
Culverhouse and APFD currently enjoy the defined benefit plan that Sebring is attempting to get rid of for its fire employees.
Darren Cole, a Hardee County firefighter/paramedic and union president, spoke up claiming that departments that offer low pay and poor benefits become what are known as revolving-door departments.
"It's departments where people just come in to get their foot in the door. They get a little experience and their gone," Cole said.
"And what is the impact on that department if they become one of those," Edmunds asked.
"You have people constantly trying to learn stuff, SOG's, maps, procedures. You just can't function as a group until everyone is on a level playing field. If you're constantly having to slow down to teach new people and trying to get them on a level playing field then your department is at a huge disadvantage," Cole said.
Cole testified that his department is currently under the FRS (Florida Retirement System) Pension Plan.
Kyle Yancey was the last to testify on behalf of the Sebring Fire Department and union. Yancey is a current employee of the SFD and has been with the department for seven years.
Statements regarding tensions between firefighters and Batz were made during Yancey's testimony in which he described himself as being viewed as a "trouble maker" at SFD.
"Several comments have been made about me by officers in my department ... When you file a grievance because of overtime or of whatever, it's a nuisance," Yancey said.
City of Sebring labor attorney Brian Koji questioned Yancey and the fire union's motives when it comes to bargaining contracts.
"The union's trying to get the chief fired, is that right," Koji asked.
"I'm not aware of that," Yancey replied.
Discussion continued about the conditions at the fire department and the rising tension between department members and leaders.
Yancey testified that he would "probably not stay" at the department if the city imposed a change from the current defined benefit plan to a 401a plan.
Following the testimonies, Helfand advised both parties to prepare briefs for review by the end of February. The city will then set a public meeting following the magistrate's recommendation that will determine the future operations of the fire department, disciplinary action, and pension matters.
Concerned Citizen (by: Blindman - 1/30/2013)
Mr. Yancey does not appear to exemplify the kind of loyalty to his his employer or the citizens of our community that most tax payers would expect. If he would "probably not stay" with the fire department because of an adjustment in the plan, that's a moral problem right now. Where is his sense of loyalty to the community. Is Mr. Yancey a life long resident of our County or is he from somewhere else? Just where do some of these people come from?
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