Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Well Done, Chief

"His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord". -Matthew 25:23

It is with great sadness that Fire Starter has learned of the passing of Chief Frank Dohnalek. Chief Dohnalek served the Village of Johnson City and its residents with dedication and integrity for 46 years. As a firefighter and finally as a chief, Chief Dohnalek epitomized the “good and faithful servant” of Matthew’s gospel.

To the end, Chief Dohnalek stood up for the safety of his brothers in the department and the citizens of the Village he loved. At a recent Village Board meeting he “called out” Mayor Hannon for the reckless cuts in the fire department that place everyone at risk. He challenged Mayor Hannon regarding his use of discipline for the intimidation of Union leaders. His honesty and integrity created a sharp contrast with the self serving and dictatorial Hannon.

Fire Starter has learned that there is no end to Mayor Hannon’s pettiness. Apparently, Village employees lowered flags to half staff to honor this great public servant and lifelong resident. In one final act of vindictiveness toward Chief Dohnalek, Mayor Hannon ordered the flags raised back to full staff.

Chief Dohnalek’s life of service was an example to all who had the opportunity to know and work with him. It is indeed sad for the Village to lose a man of such singular character. Lord knows, there are currently none in positions of power in the Village today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

No Confidence, No Competence

“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” - Laurence J. Peter

Fire Starter has previously provided extensive evidence regarding the overpaid and under worked “Joint Fire Administrator”. As detailed on this page, Stephen Hrustich costs the Village of Johnson City over $83,000 per year in salary and benefits. His commitment to the village is 20 hours per week. He gets an identical package from the Village of Endicott. This places his hourly cost to the taxpayers of Johnson City at almost $80 per hour. The only “sweeter deal” is to be the Village attorney at $200 per hour!

What has not been discussed in the past is the reaction of “his men” on the Johnson City Fire Department. Fire Starter has learned that earlier this year, the Johnson City fire fighters took the unprecedented step of voting “no confidence” with regard to their part time “Fire Administrator”. In any position of public accountability, a vote of “no confidence” is a devastating indictment of incompetence. In the fire service, it is a life and death accusation of dangerous mismanagement. Among the accusations:

  • Hrustich has failed to adequately staff the department allowing as few as 4 firefighters to protect Village residents. Multiple times since the staffing reductions, village fire fighters have had insufficient personnel to respond to medical calls.

  • He implemented (and later rescinded) the “automatic first response” between Endicott and Johnson city often leaving one or both Villages unprotected while on duty personnel chased false alarms and minor fires.

  • During the height of the H1N1 outbreak, Hrustich denied fire fighters the industry recommended respirator because of cost.

  • During the N1H1 outbreak, his solution for protecting the fire fighters was to have them provide care from a distance of six feet!

  • He has denied that station closures would result from the staffing cuts but it has already happened several times since the changes were implemented.

  • He promised to apply for federal SAFER grants alleging that the money could be used for equipping volunteers while knowing that the funds were not for that purpose.

  • He later drafted sloppy and shoddy SAFER grant applications for both Endicott and Johnson City. These amateuristic submissions were rejected by the federal government while Binghamton and Kingston’s grants were approved.

  • The chief has repeatedly attempted to take charge of fires and issue orders while he is driving to the fire from his Tioga County residence thereby placing fire fighters at risk from his ill informed decisions.

  • He has stubbornly resisted utilizing the closest professional department for mutual aid, (Binghamton) in favor of various volunteer departments with slow and unpredictable responses.

    The no confidence resolution indicts Hrustich both for mismanagement and incompetence. It questions his priorities and it questions his skill as a fire fighter and chief. Overall, the no confidence resolution paints a disturbing picture of a man in whom residents and fire fighters can not have confidence.

    In the end, Joint Fire Administrator Hrustich has been willing to sell his soul and risk the lives of residents and fire fighters to advance his career and bank account. This is exactly the kind of “leadership” Mayor Hannon sought to buy. And it appears that Hrustich’s price is $83,000 per department.

    • Monday, June 21, 2010

      Back To The Future - Hannon Loses Again

      “Stubborn and ardent clinging to one's opinion is the best proof of stupidity” - Michel de Montaigne

      The local Binghamton media is reporting that Mayor Hannon has lost yet another round in his ill fated fight against the Village Fire Department

      In April, the Appellate Division held that the no layoff clause agreed to by both the Village and the Union was enforceable and that the Village submit to an impartial hearing officer. The Village Fire Fighters have a clause which prohibits the village from laying off any fire fighters. Despite this provision, Mayor Hannon illegally laid off 6 fire fighters and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars pursuing fruitless appeals.

      What this most recent decision means is that Mayor Hannon and his amen choir of Balles, Silas and Davis are rapidly approaching the end of the line. They were able to delay ultimate action beyond Dennis Hannon's election but may not be able to save Balles and Silas. It appears ever more likely that prior to November's election, Silas and Balles will be forced to explain to taxpayers why they refused repeated concessions and opted for expensive and fruitless litigation. As detailed recently ( ), Trustees Silas and Balles have wasted over 1 million dollars in just the past year. Their stubborn arrogance has cost the taxpayers dearly. With ever mounting leagal bills and unbudgeted retroactive pay on the horizon, it will be time for Balles and Silas to be called to account. And the voters will be a tough and unforgiving judge.

      And Dennis Hannon will predictably downplay this victory. He is either in denial or believes Village residents can not count. Either way, Hannon Must Go.

      Hannon's arrogance reminds Fire Starter of a certain Monty Python character..."Just a flesh wound"

      Friday, June 18, 2010

      Cindy...We hardly Know You

      "Actions lie louder than words." - Carolyn Wells

      Cindy Novobilski was elected last November with the belief that she would be a voice for the voiceless; a force against the oppressive and punitive policies of Mayor Hannon. In the ensuing months, she has shown herself to be a typical politician.

      Prior to her election, Cindy was a voice against the shortsighted cuts and runaway litigation. She campaigned as someone who would reign in Dennis Hannon. She promised to speak truth to power. However, at Work Sessions and Board Meetings, she is hardly heard to speak. The only time her voice is heard is when she passively assents to Mayor Hannon's every wish.

      Fire Starter read with incredulity in The Press & Sun Bulletin that she was supportive of the "Bunker Program" which would have Broome Community College students living in the firehouse in return for volunteer fire service. This proposal is so idiotic as to only make sense to the Village of Johnson City!

      First, under New York State law, the "bunkers" would be required to undertake the same training as the Professional Fire Fighters which amounts to over 200 hours of training before they are allowed to fight fires. Since BCC is a two year college, most of the Bunkers would be done with their associate degrees before they even completed their training! As a result, Johnson City will foot the bill for training for other communities.

      Second, since BCC is a community college, most of the students are local and they are not in need of the housing offered as part of the program.

      Third, the bunkers would still need to be equipped and insured like a professional fire fighters. All of this expense for a short term fix.

      Finally, and probably most damaging, Fire Starter has learned that BCC has advised the Village that it has no interest in starting a Bunker's program. This simple fact has apparently not influenced Cindy's interest in pursuing this ill conceived plan.

      Fire Starter questions whether Cindy Novobilski would be so enthusiastic about this plan if her retired fire lieutenant husband's life was dependant upon it.

      Meanwhile, Joint Fire Administrator Hrustich continues to advocate this program knowing full well that the costs are significant and that there is no interest at BCC. Fire Starter believes that if Chief Hrustich wants to be President and fire chief of a volunteer fire department, he should run for the post in his Tioga County community.

      We live in a village specifically for the Police and Fire services it offers. When village leaders fail to provide these basic services, they fail our community. When leaders fail to critically analyze the simplistic solutions offered by its Joint Fire Administrator, they fail our community. When leaders are more interested getting along with each other than protecting the community and its employees, they fail our community.

      Fire Starter has been disappointed to discover that Cindy Novobilski is no better than her fellow board members.

      And because of her broken promises, perhaps she is worse.

      Wednesday, June 16, 2010

      Hannon Must Go

      "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" - Edmund Burke

      In our last two posts, we pointed out the gutless approach to governance that has become common in the Village of Johnson. First it was Rick Balles; the only Board Member to have voted for and against the Johnson City Firefighters contract. The issue was so demagogued by Hannon that it nearly caused dissolution of the Village. By that time “Honest Rick” claimed to have always been against the agreement. And he believes that his duplicitous voting record entitlement to another term.

      We next talked about Monica Silas and her campaign to destroy the fire department. So adamant in her position, she wasted over $1,000,000 in taxpayer money just in the last year. And she wants another term to continue her short sighted assault on the fire department.

      And so we come to Dennis Hannon. Just one year as Mayor and not even a full year into his first elected term. What does he have to show for it?

      • Quarter million dollar legal bills without a victory in sight

      • Federal and State lawsuits that can not be won

      • Police out of contract for over 5 years without any plan to fund retroactive pay increases

      • Laid off firefighters who will also be owed retroactive pay in the hundreds of thousands of dollars without any plan to fund this liability

      • Frivolous use of Civil Service discipline to attack enemies and intimidate opponents

      • Cover-ups of legitimate misconduct by his friends and allies

      • Use of a few police department personnel as his own personal secret police

      • Cronies paid-off with jobs at taxpayer expense in return for favorable television coverage

      • Over paid and under worked Joint Chief of Police and Joint Fire Administrator

      • Tax increases when proper management could have maintained the ranks of the fire and police departments and cut taxes.

      All of this in just one year. Imagine what the next 3 ½ will bring!

      Fire Starter would rather not imagine this bleak future. Fire Starter believes that 3 ½ more years of this corrupt mismanagement will lead to dissolution as surely as night follows day. It does not need to end this way.

      It is time for good people to rise up and oppose Hannon, Balles and Silas. It is time for good people to oppose the self serving demagogues. It is time for good people to stand up for what is right.

      And it is time for Dennis Hannon to step down.

      Wednesday, June 9, 2010

      Monica...We're Just Not That Into You

      "A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar" - Henry Louis Mencken

      Another great profile in courage in the Village of Johnson City has been trustee Monica Silas. She has quietly supported every over-reaching, bullying tactic Mayor Hannon has proposed. She supported the unwarranted discipline of fire fighters and police officers without limitation. She has supported the runaway spending on lawyers pursuing fruitless appeals and delay tactics. She has sat by while village Policemen remain out of contract for over 5 years without any plan for funding their pay increases. Most damaging, she led the charge in rejecting every concession offered by the fire fighters.

      Fire Starter has learned that the Jonson City fire fighters proposed a giveback of pay raises that would have kept the 6 laid off fire fighters on the job and protecting the Village and still saved the village about $482,000 per year. Fire Starter has been told that the fire fighters made just such an offer in April of 2009 and were rebuffed by the Village Board. Leading the charge was Trustee Silas with dismissive statements such as “we’re beyond that” and “it’s not enough”. The power felt by the bully can certainly be intoxicating!

      So let’s add it up. Rejected annually recurring savings of $482,000. Over $250,000 in legal fees in the past year and no end in sight. It has been reported that if the laid off fire fighters were brought back today, they would be owed in excess of $350,000 in pay and benefits (and that number gets bigger daily). Trustee Silas’ arrogance has cost the Village over $1,000,000 in the last year alone and the meter continues to run! And this does not even include the wasted money on the Joint Fire Administrator and Joint Police Chief noted in prior posts.
      Had Trustee Silas and her fellow Board members been governing in the "public interest" rather than pursuing enemies, the Village residents could have received a tax cut for fiscal year 2010-2011. Instead, like her mentor Mayor Hannon, when going after enemies, no price is too high (so long as the taxpayers are footing the bill!).

      And now we learn that Trustee Silas thinks she has done such a wonderful job that she deserves another term. She believes the public can be fooled again. Fire Starter believes “we’re beyond that”. Fire Starter suggests that Trustee Silas should quit while the taxpayers still have anything left in their pockets. Two more years of this sort of “leadership” would clearly bankrupt the Village. And maybe that’s her point.

      Friday, June 4, 2010

      Balles or Ball-Less?

      “Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.”- Unknown

      Fire Starter has recently learned that Johnson City Village Board member Rick Balles has decided to run for another term. This came as some surprise as it was rumored that he had decided not to run. Since Rick has decided to throw his hat in the ring again, it may be a good time to examine his record.

      As of late, he has given the appearance of being Mayor Dennis Hannon's "separated at birth" twin. No matter how short sighted or idiotic the approach, Rick has been there to support his friend Mayor Hannon.

      Balles has supported the excessive litigation and spending on legal bills. He has supported the "reach no settlement" approach to labor disputes and contracts. Difficult issues are deferred to an undetermined future date with the fantastical belief that somehow they will resolve themselves:

      Illegal Layoffs

      Abuse of Discipline in the Police and Fire Departments

      Leaving the Police out of Contract for Over 5 Years

      Running up Unprecedented Legal Bills

      And Rick has been there all along cheering on mayor Hannon. He claims to be a "forward thinker" but has apparently put no thought into how the Village will pay the layed off fire fighters when they are ordered back to work and owed substantial retroactive pay. Or How the Village will fund 5 years of retroactive pay increases to current and recently retired police officers. Or how a village of Johnson City's size can continue to foot needless legal bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on an annual basis.

      This is not "forward thinking", it is "non-thinking". But this should come as no surprise to those who have followed Balles' career.

      The one skill Balles has shown time and again is the ability to throw principle aside in favor of political advantage. Rick always positions himself to come out on the winning side of an issue, regardless of his true beliefs or principles.

      Case in point: the "controversial" fire fighter's contract. Who is the only Village Board member to have voted for and against this contract? You guessed it, Rick Balles.

      Fire Starter has learned that Balles voted for the contract when it was first voted on July 23, 2007. At that time, a unanimous Board approved the contract with the "controversial" pay increases. However, when the Village re-negotiated a better deal from its standpoint, Balles changed his vote to "no". Why is that? Because by then, Hannon had begun in earnest his campaign of disinformation and Rick was too scared to stand on principle.

      And he did it again with the proposed speech policy for Village Board meetings. He initially was in favor of stifling dissent at Board meetings. When the public rose up against the policy, he turned tail and ran. The policy was wrong from the begining, but Balles' instincts were obvious.

      Is this the sort of leadership Johnson City needs? Is this any sort of leadership?