Opinion| CAO Stalls Sault Fire Services Realignment

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Listening on TV Monday night, to the discussion of the proposed pause in the realignment of the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services at council, there was something I found very strange.
During the whole discussion, which took about an hour and a half, there was not a word from the person whose idea the realignment was – Fire Chief Mike Figliola.
The whole thing was orchestrated by Chief Administrative Officer Al Horsman, Figliola obviously having been sidelined.
That apparently is how bad it has gotten at the fire service between the chief and the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Firefighters Association.
That was pretty well acknowledged by Horsman in his report calling for a pause in the realignment and that council approve securing an independent third party to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment, something that council had previously resisted.
While the plan is proceeding as envisioned it has not been without some significant turmoil on the labour relations front, Horsman said in his report.
“Bluntly, both management and the Association have continued to be at odds in a manner that has not only deteriorated internal relations but broadened to instill concern and seeming mistrust in the community at large,” he said.
“The situation simply cannot continue in the direction it has taken. The CAO has therefore directed that a pause be applied to the transition to allow time to find some common ground and begin to repair relations. As part of this period a comprehensive risk assessment is being recommended despite some data limitations to satisfy administration’s interest over how well the plan is going as well as provide some concession to the association’s consistently voiced concerns.”
It’s actually sort of nice to see someone admit that things have gotten out of control and that moves are going to be made to fix them.
But I think if things are going to actually improve the chief will have to be brought into the discussions.
That isn’t the case now.
Horsman said despite efforts to have both parties meet at the table to gain association consultative input, there has been little or no constructive dialogue.
In an effort to improve relations, he said he and Peter Niro, the director of human resources, have held two meetings with the association executive in the past two weeks and plan further discussions.
“The chief will have some input and at some points he will be at the table,” Horsman said.
I believe if the chief has been part of the problem, surely he should be part of the solution. Otherwise, any solution achieved without him will simply remain a festering sore.
Some councillors were pretty rough on staff, which by that I mean Horsman and Figliola, questioning how things got to where they are.
There was also some talk about council’s governance role, that it really shouldn’t meddle at the staff level.
But I would suggest that there are times when it should get involved. It just can’t turn everything over to staff and say, “go to it, boys and girls.”
It was this kind of thing that gave Figliola the idea that he could hire people at the outrageous starting salary of $103,000 for positions such as public educator, training and mechanical without any fear of a kickback.
Shoemaker questioned how Niro’s advice that such hirings would result in a cost of up to $140,000 went unheeded when council’s message to staff was to keep costs down.
He also questioned how the term terminated was misinterpreted in regard to Horsman originally telling the public and eventually council in closed session that a second public educator had not been hired at a salary of $103,000.
In fact, as I revealed in my column of Feb. 18, the person who had actually held the job for six weeks received a letter which included the following: “This letter will serve as official notice of termination of employment effective immediately, January 9, 2017.”
It is hard to understand how anyone, especially someone who would have seen the letter, could misinterpret such a clear sentence.
Under the pause vacancies in any area of the fire services including EMS, fire suppression, public education, emergency management and senior command will not be filled until council approves the recommendations from pending reports.
As well, it means no purchase or transfer of vehicles except where council approval is granted by exception, which would seem to put council’s approval of four new vehicles for the service on hold.
Although I said in a column in November that I thought the realigning of the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services should proceed until later this year before a comprehensive risk assessment be undertaken in order to give the assessors more data to work with, I have no problem now with moving ahead with it.
I think everything has to be speeded up in order to bring some order to the fire service, to get both administration and those on the sharp end, the firefighters, on the same page.
And I would hope that in able to get there that both sides would be open to compromise in the event the results of the comprehensive risk assessment do not come down in their favour.
Doug Millroy can be reached at millroy@shaw.ca.

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