Council overrides mayor's veto of PSO model that eliminates traditional FF positions
The Iowa city's eight remaining firefighters who aren't cross-trained as public safety officers have been placed on administrative leave
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa
CEDAR FALLS — The City Council Monday confirmed its earlier vote to eliminate traditional firefighter positions following more than two hours of discussion and public comment.
The council voted 5-2 to override Mayor Rob Green’s veto of its Feb. 20 decision to immediately and fully reorganize the public safety department, achieving the required super majority.
As a result, the fire stations will be completely staffed by public safety officers outside of fire division command positions. Cedar Falls’ eight remaining firefighters who aren’t PSOs have been placed on paid administrative leave and no longer have access to the stations. PSOs are cross-trained police officers and firefighters who serve both divisions.
The breakdown was unchanged from the original decision made at a special meeting. Council members Nick Taiber, Frank Darrah, Susan deBuhr, Daryl Kruse and Mark Miller voted to override the veto. Council members Dave Sires and Simon Harding voted to uphold the veto.
While emphasizing his support for the PSO approach, Darrah expressed concern for the “individual people that are affected by this.” He questioned if there was a way to “take a step back” as a task force looks at how the firefighters could potentially transition to other jobs.
“My goal is to have the PSO model implemented, but I hate to have all this carnage along the way,” Darrah said prior to casting his vote.
Green suggested that wasn’t possible if the council overrode the veto.
“The understanding that I have and the staff has is that immediate implementation means ending the firefighter status,” he said. Green also revealed before the vote that the Janesville fire chief wants to meet with city officials to consider changes in the mutual aid memorandum of understanding if full implementation of the PSO model was approved by the council.
Harding urged the council “to slow down” its plans for implementation in light of a March 24 special election, echoing concerns voiced by Green in vetoing the earlier vote. An at-large seat that Taiber was appointed to in January will be on the ballot. Both Green and Harding have suggested a decision be postponed until someone is elected to the seat.
“Perception is reality and this situation is not a good look for the Cedar Falls council,” said Harding. He advocated for further study and the input of outside experts. “Not upholding the veto is setting a bad precedent in making bad policy.”
Two dozen of the 26 people who spoke during the public comment period seemed to agree.
“Please do not override the mayor’s veto tonight,” said LeaAnn Saul, a candidate for the at-large seat. She said they need to go back to the table and work things out. “I hope there is one of you who would do the right thing tonight.”
Multiple speakers voiced concern that the city was letting years of experience walk out the door by laying off the firefighters.
Council member Daryl Kruse argued that experienced professionals will continue to fight fires for the city. He pointed to the experience that will remain with fire division’s command staff as well as the accumulated experience of the PSOs, who receive the same types of training as firefighters.
City officials say they pushed full implementation because it will save about $2 million compared to separating fire and police services while providing the same level of service.
But Jennifer Rasmussen said firefighters’ experience was more important to her than the higher cost.
“I’m more than happy to pay for that experience in this city and I don’t want to see it go away,” she said.
Jennie Hansel worried that traditional firefighters were being forced out of a job and that they are better trained for responding to emergencies.
“Mayor, do you or the Cedar Falls City Council members want this to be your legacy?” she asked.
Ken Lockard, who praised the efforts of PSOs when his house burned down in November, voiced support for Public Safety Director Jeff Olson and Fire Chief John Bostwick. “You’ve hired them, trust them to do their job,” he said.
A task force including two council members and four city officials will be part of a transitional task force. It will look at personnel issue as the city helps the firefighters explore other job possibilities with the city.
©2020 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)