Thursday, April 29, 2010

JC Fire Marshal Continues to Receive Pay

In what is becoming a recurring theme, Village of Johnson City Mayor Dennis Hannon has lost again. Johnson City's "new sheriff" is rapidly becoming a "laughing stock".

Mayor Hannon, in his iron fisted attempt to bully Fire Marshal Robert Dempsey has been rebuffed yet again by the New York State Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Ferris Lebous ruled Friday that the Village must arbitrate with the fire fighters union regarding contract language pertaining to the selection of hearing officers. Of greater significance is the fact that the court ruled that during the time the Village has wasted trying to appoint their biased, toady hearing officer, Dempsey must be paid his full and regular salary. The Village's arguments were summarily rejected by the Supreme Court.

That brings the not working but being paid number to 7 fire fighters. All to satisfy Hannon's hubris. Someone needs to inform Mayor Hannon that Village law does not envision an imperial mayor. Village government is meant to be a cooperative venture between Village residents, leaders (not rulers) and employees.

It has become far too much to expect that Hannon would ever want to proceed with discipline (or for that matter any other case) before impartial judges. He prefers to rule by edict without question. He intimidates critics with threats to their financial security and livelihood. (See: Meaney, Dempsey, Potts). But every time Hannon appears before an impartial Judge, he loses.

But more importantly, the Village residents lose. How long will village residents be forced to underwrite Mayor Hannon's personal vendettas. How much Village money will be spent on showing everyone who the "boss" is? When will the Village board finally realize that this is accomplishing nothing for us residents?

There may be a new sheriff in town, but time after time, he appears to be shooting blanks.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Police Dogs: Biting the Hand that Feeds Them

It has been with great fanfare that the purchase of a new police dog was announced in the Village of Johnson City. Little was said of the direct cost (often up to $8,500) and even less was said of the liability issue.

A quick Internet search reveals a significant liability issue:

Athens County Ohio: county sued by suspect for $450,000 for dog bite which occurred in the course of an arrest.

Minneapolis, Minnesota: teacher who was bitten by police dog while turning off an alarm at her school settles for $200,000.

Waukegan, Illinois: spectator at a police dog competition sues for $100,000 for injuries incurred when a police dog veered into the crowd and bit her.

Chicago, Illinois: cook county jury awards $200,000 to a man attacked by a police dog and bitten in the leg and scrotum.

Wilmington, Delaware: pair of suspects sue in federal court for unstated damages for excessive force involving police dog bites.

Norfolk, Virginia: jury awards man $13,000 for being mistakenly bitten by a police dog.

Sarasota, Florida: 12 year old girl who was riding an electric scooter was attacked and bitten by a police dog that escaped its handler. Lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages.

Yakima, Washington: a police officer was bitten by a fellow officer's police dog and sustained serious injuries resulting in having the muscle in his forearm removed. In addition to filing for workmen's compensation, he is suing for negligence.

These are but a few examples of the increased liability a community takes on when it opts for a police dog. In addition, dog handling officers typically only patrol four out of five shifts per week since at least one shift per week is dedicated to "training" with the police dog. In these difficult economic times, a police dog looks a lot more like a luxury than a necessity.

Two final points. First, Mayor Hannon hailed the addition of a K-9 as a great tool for the JCPD in conducting searches/tracking. It is hard to imagine what JC primeval forest the Mayor envisions the K-9 searching. Second, as a supposed proponent of shared services, is is unclear why other area K-9 units could not be used if needed.

What we need are more HUMAN bodies on the streets, not publicity stunts.

As an aside, Fire Starter has heard that the breeder/trainer of the dog may have connections to Village officials. If this is true, at the very least, this should have been disclosed as a conflict of interest.

Friday, April 23, 2010

D'OH - Case to Go Forward

Fire Starter has just become aware of a new development in Captain Meaney's Federal lawsuit against the Village of Johnson City. Meaney is suing for a violation of his free speech rights. According to Binghamton Fox40, Mayor Hannon alleged that the suit was frivolous and wanted it thrown out but the judge said the claim was legitimate!

Fire Starter will continue to dig for more information on this recent decision.

Exit question: When will the village wise up and try to resolve their disputes through negotiation rather than litigation?

UPDATE: The Press & Sun Bulletin are now reporting the story.

A link to the decision is on the second page on the web site. Interesting reading!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

FOUND: Wealthy Fire Fighter

Last week, Fire Starter gave lie to myth of the 85K fire fighter in the Village of Johnson. We now are writing to issue a formal apology for last week’s post. Apparently, our information was flawed. There is a fire fighter getting rich in the Village, and he is only part time!

Fire Administrator Stephen Hrustich has feathered his nest nicely in the Village of Johnson City. For fiscal year 2009-2010, Hrustich was scheduled to receive a base salary of from the Village of Endicott of almost $86,000 (Aha…the 85k firefighter is found!). In addition, he was scheduled to receive many standard benefits such as health insurance (at no cost to Hrustich!) and retirement.

The Village of Johnson City (apparently feeling left out for not having an 85K fire fighter) approached the Village of Endicott about sharing its well heeled chief. The arrangement would be that Hrustich would work half time at each department. In return for working the same amount of time between two departments, Hrustich would receive a 26% pay increase plus associated increases in payroll and other expense. In addition, he has been granted other perks such as free use of a Village of Johnson City vehicle (with gas provided by the by the Village of Endicott) and a $1,200 allowance for his cell phone.

The result, Fire Administrator Hrustich has received a base salary of $115,754! With other costs rolled in, the cost to the taxpayers of both Villages is a whopping $164,793 or 82,396 per village!

While Fire Starter begrudges no one an honest days pay for an honest days work, we question whether either is present in this case. The Fire Administrator is not required to work any additional hours to earn his overnight 26% pay increase. In a time of budget shortfalls and layoffs, this appears to be an extravagant compensation package. This is particularly true when compared to other municipal employees. Fire Starter has determined that Fire Administrator Hrustich is the fourth highest paid municipal employee in Broome County. Only two County Psychiatrists (MD’s) and the District Attorney make more than the Fire Administrator. Not bad for two part time jobs!

The Chief of the Binghamton Fire Department, Daniel Thomas, made $86,964 for calendar year 2009. This is remarkable, if for no other reason than Binghamton's Fire Department is roughly double the size of Endicott and Johnson City departments combined!

Fire Starter has learned that had the Village of Johnson City promoted from within, the cost to taxpayers would have been approximately $30,000. This figure would have encompassed the pay increases for all associated promotions within the department. And the Village would have a FULL TIME Chief (And the village would have had nearly 55K to spare to put toward a FULL TIME fire fighter who would actually FIGHT FIRES.) If this represents belt tightening in the Village of Johnson City, it appears to be a total failure. However, it appears that Mayor Hannon was willing to spare no expense to obtain his “yes man”. The only real question is whether we the tax payers are willing to fund Hannon’s empire building.

On a final note, Mayor Hannon has done a spectacular job of saving money for taxpayers…in Endicott. Their chief was scheduled to cost them $129,408 for fiscal year 2009-2010. Through this agreement, Endicott has saved over $45,800 just this past year…courtesy of the taxpayers of Johnson City.

UPDATE: Fire Starter has learned that the village vehicle and gas is an even sweeter deal than first thought. Apparently, Fire Administrator Hrustich lives in Tioga County and is able to utilize the Johnson City vehicle and Endicott gas to travel to and from work every day (over 25 miles round trip daily). It is great that he is able to save the wear and tear on his own vehicle. Thank you taxpayers!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Safety Dilemna

What do you get when you cut public safety to the bone so as to appear to be a fiscal hero? You get either high overtime, significantly compromised public safety or both.

Policemen and fire fighters comprise a large percentage of most municipal budgets. Public safety is labor intensive. There is no denying this fact. And equipment, even though well cared for, is costly. But no one is willing to wait while their house is burglarized or their love ones are trapped in a burning building. And why should they wait. This is why we pay taxes. This is why we live in a community with professional services. If these services were not important to us, we would live in areas without municipal services.

Enter local politicians. They demagogue the issue of taxes and cast our public servants as the enemy. Meanwhile, it is the very services these employees provide that keep us safe.

When the ranks of our protectors are cut without consideration for safety, both the residents and our protectors are put at risk. One choice of the opportunistic politician is to rely on paying the remaining employees overtime to work beyond their regular schedule. The most cynical of politician orders the ranks to "run with what you got" meaning if there are too few policeman to cover the village, we go with what we have and hold our breath that nothing big happens. If only 4 fire fighters are able to work on a given day, we run with the four and hope that there isn't a big fire or multiple fires. The cowardly and self promoting politician knows this places everyone at risk, but that is the risk he is willing to take...with your life and your property.

In the end, the combination of overtime and under staffing creates a no win for the taxpayer. They get reduced service for more money. All the while, the politician, who created the problem, clucks his tongue as though he had no part in it.

Fire starter believes that taxpayers are on to your game. We will have a chance to right our mistake in November. We hope you can hear our voices. In the meantime, we pray that no one pays for your arrogance with their lives.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Where Have All the Wealthy Fire Fighters Gone?

They have become the “Welfare Queens” of the 21st Century. (You probably remember the urban legends of women on welfare living high on the hog). Today, it is the mythical fire fighter who is making over 85k a year while local private sector employees get laid off. Who are these public employees? Surely there must be some among the ranks of the Johnson City Fire Fighters! (No there are not, and don’t call me Shirley!)

Much has been made of the “41%” raises the Johnson City firefighters received over the 5 year contract with the Village of Johnson City. What is rarely talked about is the fact that for years, the Village Fire Fighters agreed to smaller pay increases than othr municipal employees in return for not paying into their health insurance. In addition, prior to the current contract, there was a minimum department size guaranteed under the contract.

Under the current contract, Village Fire Fighters contribute to their health insurance much like all other public employees. In addition, the department is now 7 fire fighters smaller than it was just 5 years ago (not including the laid off 6). This is due largely to the elimination of the minimum manning clause. These changes were demanded by the Village and were part of the negotiated agreement leading to the current contract.

Well surely (there you go again), JC Fire Fighters, with their current contract have far surpassed other local fire departments in salary. In fact, a side by side comparison of pay reveals otherwise.

The Binghamton Press &Sun Bulletin published salaries for local government workers for 2008. Unfortunately for the JC Fire Fighters, this was the calendar year in which they received 2 years of retroactive pay increases. However, if one were to compare JC Firefighter’s 2008-2009 contract pay with the average pay for other municipal fire fighters, an interesting pattern emerges:

First Grade Fire Fighter:

Binghamton: $64,551

Endicott: $60,189

Johnson City: $61,891

Fire Lieutenant:

Binghamton: $65,489

Endicott: $73,017

Johnson City: $67,167

Fire Captain:

Binghamton: $76,830

Endicott: $72,985

Johnson City $71,712

A side by side comparison reveals that the Johnson City pay was in line with neighboring municipalities. In other words, in return for their concessions regarding health insurance and manning, they have begun to come in line with other firefighters in the area.

I have not heard the Johnson City Fire Fighters complaining about their salaries or jobs. I believe they are hard working public servants who appreciate the jobs they have. Daily, they risk their lives for the citizens they serve. They appreciate the fact that taxpayers work hard to fund their salaries. Perhaps the Village Board and Mayor should show the same appreciation for village taxpayers.

Now, about that 85k per year fire fighter…there do not seem to be any full time fire fighters in JC earning that kind of salary. Perhaps there is a part time employee who makes the equivalent of 85k…or more.

Friday, April 9, 2010

JC Fire Fighters Win Latest Round

The Appellate Division yesterday dealt a crushing blow the the meglomaniacal mayor of Johnson City and his sycophant Board. The Appellate Division held that the "no lay off" clause in the fire fighter's contract was enforceable through arbitration. Contrary to the Village's position, it was not vague, too long in duration or otherwise contrary to public policy. The court ruled that the Village must honor its commitments like everyone else!

At the moment, this is small comfort to the 6 laid off fire fighters who have been out of work for over 8 months. But if the "no layoff" clause really means what its plain language would imply, they will soon be restored to their positions with back pay. That means that the Village will have wasted a year's worth of pay and benefits (over 500k) when they could have had these fire fighters on the job. In addition, the village has spent over 250k on lawyers in this losing battle.

This did not have to happen this way. The fire fighters offered over 500k in recurring contract savings in return for not laying off the 6 fire fighters. However, as has become commonplace in JC government, the arrogance of power won out. In the end, Mayor Hannon has pursued his personal grievances on the taxpayer's dime.

JC voters will get their chance to fix this in November. Two new Board members can turn the tide and put Hannon in his place.