Ypsilanti firefighters tentatively scheduled to make controversial presentation against hybrid model
Courtney Sacco I AnnArbor.com
Ypsilanti firefighters and state union fire officials are now tentatively scheduled to give a presentation before city council against the creation of a hybrid public safety department, after Council Member Susan Moeller finally secured a second in favor of it. However, one city official not in favor of the presentation said it's not exactly a done deal yet.
"This is not a case of trying to muzzle or trying to censor the fire department," said Mayor Paul Schreiber.
Schreiber said he's not in favor of the public presentation because the fire department is in negotiations with City Manager Ralph Lange. Schreiber believes the presentation will discuss the negotiations, which he said should remain in private.
Before a council meeting can move forward, the agenda must be approved and council members have the right to object to items, such as scheduled presentations.
Schreiber said he can't make an objection because he's the chair of the council, but if another member were to object the presentation, he would second it. Council would then have to vote on whether to allow the presentation.
"It's possible it can happen here," Schreiber said.
The presentation has been highly contested by the majority of the council members, who believe it would get in the way of current union negotiations. Schreiber said it will take four yes votes to change the agenda.
However, Council Member Ricky Jefferson has decided to second Moeller's request to add the firefighters to the agenda. Many council members have openly said they're not in favor of the presentation, citing negotiations as their reasoning.
AnnArbor.com reported last week that the Ypsilanti City Council declined to hear a presentation from Ypsilanti Fire Union President Ken Hobbs and state officials who are against the creation of a hybrid public safety department.
Moeller continued to implore council members to change their mind and Tuesday, the issue was brought back into the spotlight after Hobbs spoke during council's public participation portion of the meeting.
.Courtney Sacco I AnnArbor.com
"Shame on you for not allowing us, the city of Ypsilanti firefighters, on the agenda to present documentation strictly from a budget standpoint," Hobbs said.
Moeller said after hearing Hobbs speak, Jefferson reached out to her at the end of the meeting and said he would second the motion to have the presentation added to the agenda.
In order to have a presentation added to an agenda, a council member must first propose the addition and it must be seconded by another council member.
"After the meeting was over, Ricky came up to me and told me he would support my agenda motion to let Ken speak," Moeller said. "He (Jefferson) has always been an union man and he said they should be allowed to speak."
Jefferson told AnnArbor.com that no matter what position or title someone holds within the city, every person's thoughts in regards to policies and procedures should be heard and respected by city council.
"I do not expect one person to have all the answers that will secure the future of our city and effectively get us through the inevitable projected deficit of our general fund," Jefferson said. "I do expect all who are involved to work together and help ensure that my city gets through this predicament with a clear vision of which best practices are capable of maintaining quality service within the constraints of an already depleting budget."
Jefferson said the city is at a point where all branches of city administration staff and services must compromise.
"We are in a time of when what previously worked is failing and there is a need for outside the box government," Jefferson said. "We can no longer afford to trust in business as usual models.
"I believe that negotiations are the most important part of collective bargaining. It is my understanding that the information that the firefighters will present before council will be documented material about the PSO model. As an elected representative of the city of Ypsilanti I am responsible for exhausting all accessible options of best practices, both pro and con opinions of those practices, in good faith before I make any decisions."
Moeller said she believes the firefighters should be allowed to speak because she believes the majority of discussion about the PSO model has been done at the negotiation table and not in the public.
"The public hasn't been informed that it's being considered," Moeller said. "It's important that they present. It hasn't really been anything that the public can comment on. I don't personally support the public safety model and a lot of people in my ward don't."
Moeller said a lot of residents are interested in hearing the presentation and have written to council asking why they wouldn't consider it.
The firefighters have said the presentation will not discuss elements of the union negotiations, but Schreiber adamantly believes it will cross the line.
"(This) screams negotiations," Schreiber said. "Just by council member Moeller's own words, this is a union negotiation presentation in the public. ... I would certainly welcome a presentation after the contract. As soon as it's settled, I have no problem. Let's have a good public discussion then."
Moeller said it would make no sense to have a presentation after the contract is settled because elements of the PSO would likely be included in it. In April, council approved the Police Officers Association of Michigan contract, which contains language related to the possible creation of a hybrid department.
The contract allows the POAM to incorporate the position of public safety officer into its union. In the event that the city elects to create the classification of a public safety officers, unit members who become PSOs will receive 7 percent above the police officer wage scale.
Schreiber said if the contract were to contain PSO elements, it wouldn't lock the city into moving forward with the model if it were to decide to pursue something else.
"The city can always go back," Schreiber said. "It's a flexible thing, at least in my way of thinking. This isn't something where you make a decision and can't go back on. We, meaning the city council as the policymakers of the city, need the ability to decide what we want to do. That's all I'm asking for. The fact they want to have this discussion now, to me there's not a reason for the discussion now."
The presentation, PSO Facts vs. Myths, is scheduled to last for 30 minutes at the June 4 meeting. In addition to Hobbs, the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union president Mark Docherty and MPFFU PSO Committee Chair Monty Nye will present.