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Posted on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

Ann Arbor firefighters union president expresses concerns upon departure of fire chief

By Ryan J. Stanton

The president of the Ann Arbor firefighters union has issued a public response to the retirement of Fire Chief Dominick Lanza, saying he's disappointed by the chief's decision but understands Lanza has obligations to his family.


Matt Schroeder

"This most recent vacancy adds to the long list of Chiefs with very short tenures who could not meet the demands placed upon them by the City Administrator," Matt Schroeder wrote in a letter posted to's community wall.

Click here to read Schroeder's full letter, in which he expresses concerns about continued threats to the fire department's budget, closing of stations, and dwindling staff numbers.

Since 2002, there have been four appointed chiefs of the Ann Arbor Fire Department, as well as four interim chiefs, Schroeder said. As with any organization without consistent leadership, he said, the Ann Arbor Fire Department has suffered as a result.

City officials have no plans for replacing Lanza yet, said Mayor John Hieftje.

The City Council recently was presented with options for trimming nearly $1.2 million from the fire department's budget over the next two years. That includes eliminating up to 13 firefighter positions.

Click here to download the budget analysis.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Kai Petainen

Sat, Feb 19, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

"At this level, we fail to meet NFPA minimum recommendations, yet we continue to do our level best whenever you need us." Fail to meet requirements? That sounds like a serious concern.


Sat, Feb 19, 2011 : 5:35 a.m.

Why can't we keep a fire chief, could it be the employees are too dificult to manage? Could it be there is too much union influence standing in the way of good management?


Sat, Feb 19, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

Where are you getting your info that anyone has ever attempted to undermine anyone's authority? You need to stop making up your own facts and stick to the real world information. Two chiefs came and left due to the city ADMINISTRATION. Not the department itself. It's had for a chief to come expecting to make a department better when Fraser constantly puts up road blocks. Please provide ONE example of when the chief was ever undermined in his attempts to provide better services??? Drop your hatred, and stay on point with facts.


Sat, Feb 19, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

The truth always seems to be wrapped in secrecy with hidden agendas. A resigning fire chief who can't handle the pressure or a dysfunctional department with a union that undermines management authority? How can the public ever know?


Sat, Feb 19, 2011 : 9:18 a.m.

Well...that is NOT what he stated. He said the budget cuts to his department was what contributed to his resignation. After a lifetime in the filed, I'm sure he knows when his department is being dismantled.


Sat, Feb 19, 2011 : 1:14 a.m.

Truth is exactly right. Anything that the unions have as far as pay and benefits was all approved and rubber stamped by the people in charge. The same people that sit in those seats today. If they were so against it and it was so bad then why not roll the dice at arbitration???

try your best

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 11:12 p.m.

The losers in all this are the tax payers of Ann arbor. If the people of this city want to believe that the fire dept and unions in general are to blame for any of the financial woes this mayor and council have created then they get what they deserve. The powers to be approved all the contracts the unions have except the police dept. Good luck with your future paid-on call fire dept. And you still won't see a drop in your taxes.

Patricia Lesko

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 10:04 p.m.

@Tim Darton the Municipal Center had an $8 million dollar impact on the GF while Hieftje, et. al. saved up for a down payment on the project by skimming money directly from the GF budget over a period of several years. Until the First & Washington parcel owned by the city is sold for $3 million dollars (a part of the financing package), the project is $3 million dollars short, and Roger Fraser recently referred to it in public as "the money pit." We might infer from that comment, that more cost over-runs will be forthcoming. The DDA just gave a $2 million dollar infusion directly to the city's GF, so this malarky that the DDA money ($550,000) used to make GO bond payments on the Municipal Center debt couldn't go to the GF is just that, malarky. Pfizer is a red herring argument. That parcel represented less than 5 percent of the city's property tax revenues. Since Pfizer left, other developments have come into the property tax revenue stream. Thus, property tax revenues have increased every year since 2001. Alas, Roger Fraser and John Hieftje have misled the public by stating that property tax revenues have fallen, or will take "years to recover." Spending is the problem. Debt service is up. Debt payments made from the GF (such as those for the Municipal Center bonds) directly impact the GF, and represent millions that can't be allocated to citizen services. The city "had no choice but to build?" So why did Roger Fraser recently suggest renting out the portion of the new building that would be occupied by the District Court in order to save money? At the January 2011 Council Budget Retreat Roger Fraser told Council members: "There were very few cities who pay for courts and one option would be to turn over the court to the county to run." Posted to the city's web site is this: Michigan State Law mandates the City of Ann Arbor to house the 15th District Court. Ann Arbor has to house the judges? We can rent out their space? Which is


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 9:58 p.m.

Re Darton: I'm not sure of all the implications of the previous round of layoffs but your assertion that they resulted from others not retiring is off base. The work force is filled with people past retirement age and many that had to re-enter the work force after retiring. Just because someone reaches the minimum age of retirement does not mean they are in fact able to retire. You certainly don't know anyone's personal situation and to imply you should or must retire as soon as possible is ridiculous. Are you going to give up your job to save someone else from being laid off? Unless you are offering to supplement the income of others don't place the blame on those that choose to continue working for whatever their personnel needs maybe.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 9:44 p.m.

I am so glad to see the unions going by the wayside.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 8:25 p.m.

The fire chief had an impressive background. He had spent a lifetime in fire services. And he had planned to stay longer. The cuts to fire services were a part of his decision, he said. So to abruptly leave means something...and certainly makes one suspicious. If the cuts were fair and everything was truly above board, I don't think he would have made the statement he made at retirement. I suspect he didn't like what was going on behind the curtain. Best of luck to the workers who are now left in the dark once again.

Tim Darton

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Born: Here is it again. It has been stated many time already but: The new police and courts building has very little impact on the general fund that pays for FF's. The payments are made by $800,000 the city used to pay in rent (now the city owns the space) and DDA money that could not legally be spent to pay to pay for general fund expenses. But wait, the city had no choice anyway. The county is moving their juvenile courts into their courtroom, the city courts had to leave and courts need a secure building, not some old office or retail space. Or how about the underground parking structure, again, paid for by the DDA with money that by law, could not be spent to pay general fund salaries. I think your right, the city has taken in more tax money since 2000 but they had better, otherwise there is no way to keep up with the rise in benefit costs for the union employees. The increase in health care alone has probably averaged 8% per year. Then of course they have been hit with big revenue sharing cuts and income leveled off with the loss of the Pfizer property. But the crux of your argument is always that the city government has somehow mismanaged their funds. But if that is true the leaders in Grand Rapids, Troy, Royal Oak, Lansing, etc.... must have really messed up. They have all raised taxes or tried to raise taxes and still laid people off. Lansing is looking a $$ problem 4 times larger than A2 with the same size city. Jackson just announced they are closing 2 of their 3 fire stations. So, are these Michigan cities and all the others that have cut a combined 1,800 FF's and 2,400 police in the last several years, all mismanaged? Meanwhile A2 has not raised taxes and while they have made reductions, they have not laid off any police and only 3 firefighters but only because none of their 6 "brothers" who could have retired, did.

Edward Vielmetti

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

moderator's note: A set of comments which contained personal attacks and which violated other elements of our comment moderation guidelines were removed. Because our system removes replies to a comment when a comment is removed, I think there's 5 of them that got wiped out. You know the drill, please don't bash on each other, stick to constructive commentary, and for heavens sakes ask good questions that help the reporter (or the moderator) help write a better story; personal sniping will be removed.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

Wow... such ridiculous posts. Especially the one regarding being on duty. My point was simply in response to Tim's comment "Look at the growth in costs of benefits for fire fighters and police across this state." Michigan is complaing the loudest of this. Other states are looking for other excuses or areas of blame. Bottom line to managing what you have. Not what you HOPE to have. All of the articles to date have been about how police and fire have cost this city so much, and are basically the biggest problem. But you want to turn around and attack me? Intelligent. I should've gone on to ask how the city has taken in $30 Millon MORE in revenue since 2001, while cutting the workforce by 25%, and still claims to be running out of money. Now look at the buildings, city 'pet projects', etc going up. Is that fiscal responsibility? Or is it passing the blame?


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 8:08 p.m.

Two hours later it was removed. Sorry, BornNRaised. You didn't deserve that disrespect.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.

Interesting that I had asked to have it removed and they did not remove it. Very interesting. Yet every unverified comment about Ken Magee or Snyder disappears before you can blink. I guess it's okay to make unverified accusations about lowly firefighters, eh? Believe me, many many people appreciate you included.

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 7:32 p.m.

"City officials have no plans for replacing Lanza yet, said Mayor John Hieftje." No hurry. Why do we need a trained professional for such a trivial city job, huh Mr. Mayor?

Bertha Venation

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 8:08 p.m.

Ya, Alan. Isn't Hieftje a real piece of work?

Tim Darton

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 6:35 p.m.

Here it is again, the old Fox News myth trotted out. The reality is, as Ryan Stanton has covered it on this site, not a penny of the city's art fund money can be spent on the fire department or any other general fund function. It would be fraud to do so. The city would be subject to heavy fines and prosecution by the state attorney general. Want to know why Michigan cities have cut 1,800 fire fighters in the last decade? It's the Michigan recession/depression that has been going on for so long. Look at the slow down in the growth of revenues from property taxes and the huge state revenue sharing cuts. Look at the growth in costs of benefits for fire fighters and police across this state.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 7:14 p.m.

There are many reasons for this States woes. One of which is mismanagement at all levels. If there had not been so many people that mismanaged there personal finances they would have been more able to withstand part of this mess. But most were happy to take out a second mortgage so they could buy toys rather than pay down their mortgage! Cities have done the same.

Tim Darton

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 7 p.m.

Now you're talking nonsense. If what you say were true the city would have had to raise taxes but it hasn't although many others have or have tried. So under your theory, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Troy, Royal Oak, etc., have all managed their finances poorly? All have raised taxes or tried. In Lansing, a city with 2,000 more residents than A2 has a deficit in next years budget that is four times larger than A2's. The mayor just put a $8.5 million tax increase on the table for the voters although after yesterday's announcement, look for that to go up. Jackson certainly does not have the vibrancy of A2 but they must have made big spending mistakes, they had three fire stations at the beginning of the year but they just said they will close 2, not occasionally but for good.

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 6:59 p.m.

I don't want to speak on behalf of Mr. Darton but being as he didn't mention unions or benefits, you did, his "excuse" might be the same...a multiyear recession/depression. whats your excuse for all those other states in the same boat? Local governments everywhere are all mismanaging their money?


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

What's your excuse for all the states that don't have unions, nor pay benefits, but are in the exact same boat. This city doesn't manage their money well. Bottom line. There's countless articles that prove that.

Bertha Venation

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

The next time your house catches fire, please feel free to call the new fountain at city hall.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 11:58 p.m.

Or just go park underground next to the library.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

Bertha, you do know how to get to the point in a few words! Thanks!