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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, October 09, 2019 1:00 am

Council alters commission on request of firefighters

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne firefighters got some of what they've been urging when City Council voted Tuesday to revamp the composition of the department's Merit Commission, in part to bring it into conformance with state law.

After lengthy discussion, the council voted to scrap one ordinance proposal and two amendments to another.

The amendment members approved was advanced by Paul Ensley, R-1st, and would bring the board into conformity with state law by having City Council appoint one member.

Under Ensley's amendment, the mayor and the firefighters' union will have two appointments each. Both must choose representatives from two different political parties. The council will also have a second non-voting representative. 

The proposed ordinances came after council representatives Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Michael Barranda, R-at large, met with representatives of Mayor Tom Henry's administration, Fire Chief Eric Lahey and the union. 

Barranda said he recognized the board has been the subject of “frustration and lack of trust” between the union and the city administration, including the fire chief.

The perception has been that mayoral appointees stacked the board, which is important because it has the power to promote, demote and fire department's employees, Barranda said.

Both Barranda and Council President John Crawford, R-at large, advanced amendments that did not come to a vote.

Ensley defended his amendment by saying it “keeps power closer to the people,” and Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said he was “prepared to support Councilman Ensley's proposal” – and did.

The discussion also secured a pledge by Lahey and the union to take a comprehensive look at the merit board's rules and come up with changes acceptable to both parties to be voted on by council by the end of the year.

Lahey said he was willing to work on the project, but also stressed that he had “never ever unfairly applied the merit rules. We're talking about language in the merit rules that the union thinks is unfair.”

Union President Capt. Jeremy Bush said after the meeting that with the ordinance and the merit rules proposal “we're taking steps in the right direction.”

He added: “Yes there has been some frustration. ... But this (new board composition) is what the state code outlines. That's what we advocated.”  

rsalter@jg.net