Confusion after council votes down fire contract
By Lindsey Peterson, KVNO News
August 17th, 2011
Omaha, NE- The Omaha City Council voted down Mayor Jim Suttle’s agreement with the Omaha Fire Union Tuesday afternoon. But the final vote seemed to confuse not only onlookers, but the council members themselves.
Fire Union President Steve Leclair wasn’t the only one confused in city hall. “They approved their amendments and then voted the contract down as amended? I’m slightly confused, but this city council has me perplexed,” said Leclair. Soon after the city council voted “no” in a 3-4 vote on an amended Fire Union contract, some council members needed clarification as to what they had just voted on.
City Clerk, Buster Brown, had to clarify for some council members after the vote was completed. “Once we amended it that became the document to be voted on,” explained Brown.
Fire Union President, Steve Leclair, said he was "confused" by the council's vote. (Photo credit Omaha Fire Department)
“If you want to reconsider, you can make a motion to reconsider, whoever voted no,” Brown said. But no motion was made. “So the original motion, without any amendments, is no longer on the floor. There’s no contract that’s been approved, period.”
Amendments to the proposed city contract took up most of the debate. Councilwoman Jean Stothert proposed two of her own amendments, one to cut Leclair’s position as the Fire Union President, and another that would cut the lifespan of any approved contract, to be valid only through the end of this year.
“These amendments can be approved, and we can approve an amended contract,” said Stothert during the debate. “I think it’s a win-win for both sides. I would seriously ask the Union to consider.”
Both of her amendments were voted down by the council. The Fire Union as well as Mayor Jim Suttle, have stated they would reject any amendments to the contract. The Fire Union has also threatened a $300 million lawsuit against the city if an agreement can’t be reached.
As the debate continued, Councilman Garry Gernandt expressed concern over the possibility that no agreement would pass, and its ramifications on the city and taxpayers.
“The amendments that are on our agenda today, in my opinion, seem to be counterproductive and would cause some financial hardship, extreme financial hardship, to the city and its taxpayers both in the short and long term,” said Gernandt.
But Councilman Chris Jerram said threats were not to be taken into consideration when negotiating.
The Omaha City Council voted to add amendments to the Fire Union contract, only to vote down the amended contract soon after. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)
“We are not a rubber stamp. We have a responsibility, not to Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, we have a duty in the checks and balances in power as the last fiscal review to the taxpayers of the city,” said Jerram.
Chip Maxwell of the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector was allowed to rebut the proponents from last week’s public hearing. The time was promised by Councilman Franklin Thompson in last week’s hearing after the council ran out of time. “We urge the city council not to back down in this case,” said Maxwell.
Councilman Ben Gray did not mince words in his critique of fire contract opponents, accusing them of blurring the debate. That debate, he said, began years ago with much worse contracts that grew the unfunded pension liability.
“Where were you then? You’re here now,” Gray said. “And the arguments you put forward are flawed with misinformation. And that misinformation has taxpayers and others confused. It is not accurate.”
The city and the council would like to see all firefighters on a civilian health care plan, which they said, would save millions of dollars in costs to the city. But, when the contract with those amendments was presented for a vote, it was voted down.
Meanwhile, Leclair said he’s not only confused by the council’s decision, but felt the council did not take the agreements between the union and the city into consideration.
“…utter disregard, for the concessions that the members of the fire dept have given up, utter disregard for the millions of dollars in savings that the taxpayers are going to realize as a result of this contract,” said Leclair after the vote.
According to Nebraska Watchdog, the Mayor’s office has not decided its next course of action. Spokesperson Aida Amoura was quoted saying, “The council has to figure out what it thinks.”