by Mary Rupert
Mayor Mark Holland, in his last week in office, is alleging that some Kansas City, Kansas, firefighters are engaged in “widespread corruption” in paying money for other firefighters working their shifts, and alleges the practice is jeopardizing the community’s safety.
However, Mayor-elect David Alvey’s reaction to this issue was that it wasn’t widespread corruption.
“I think it’s a gross misrepresentation to describe the process as ‘widespread corruption’ in the Fire Department,” Alvey said Wednesday night in a brief interview following the Board of Public Utilities meeting. Alvey is scheduled to take office next Monday.
The Unified Government Commission is holding a meeting on the topic at 7 p.m. tonight, Jan. 4, at the Commission Chambers, lobby level, City Hall, 701 N. 7th St., Kansas City, Kansas.
The end-of-the-year fire report is contained in the UG agenda located at www.wycokck.org, under agendas. Mayor Holland called the special meeting on Tuesday.
Mayor Holland sent out a Facebook message and also sent out a robo telephone call on Wednesday and Thursday about the issue.
His Facebook message read: “A recent end-of-the-year report has exposed widespread corruption in our Fire Department that is jeopardizing the safety our firefighters and our residents. I have called a special meeting to discuss the findings of the report and discuss how these practices are contributing to our taxpayers paying twice the amount for the same level of fire protection that other cities do. Please tune in at 7:00 pm to UGTV or on the Unified Government YouTube channel to see a presentation (linked below) about how this corruption is costing us valuable resources and putting our safety at risk.”
Mayor Holland reports alleged threat to KBI
After Mayor Holland’s Facebook and robo calls went out about the meeting, a social media post was allegedly made by a firefighter that the mayor reported to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, according to a news release this morning from the mayor’s office.
The social media post, according to the mayor’s news release, was “You might need security detail when you start witch hunts like so …”
The mayor’s news release called the threat “intolerable” and alleged that the fire union leadership had a “hostile mentality.” In the wake of the threat, according to the mayor’s news release, he called on the UG commissioners to “stand firm and not allow a few people in our Fire Union to intimidate them.”
Ordinance change proposed tonight
A change to the UG’s ordinance is proposed that would not allow UG employees to receive compensation from any source other than the UG for work or services they perform as part of their job. This would not apply to police officers who are serving as security officers, according to the ordinance, and it would not apply if the UG administrator gives permission for it.
According to the report on the Fire Department contained in the UG agenda, the contract allows trading time but the practice is selling time. The report stated that only six of 391 firefighters traded an equal number of shifts, and that 237 firefighters split $920,000 in taxpayer dollars for time not worked.
The report alleged that selling time created an unsafe work environment, with 15 firefighters exceeding a 24 trade limit, and some working hours in a row without adequate rest. The report did not address the possibility of firefighters who may be allowed to sleep during their shifts if there is not a call.
The UG previously discussed this issue in 2016 and 2017, and after an audit in 2016 pointed out the payments for shifts, the UG implemented a system for tracking the shifts. The firefighters’ contract that was negotiated by UG officials and approved by the UG Commission last year did not specifically say that firefighters couldn’t trade shifts, or accept payment for them.
Alvey comments on fire report issue
While Mayor-elect David Alvey said Wednesday night he did not yet have a chance to look at and read the data in the end-of-the-year fire report, he said it would have to be studied. He made some brief comments about the issue to the Wyandotte Daily after the Wednesday, Jan. 3, Board of Public Utilities meeting.
“My understanding is shift trading is revenue-neutral,” Alvey said. “If there are any abuses, we need to look at it.”
He said he understood that shift trading was done to achieve flexibility for the firefighters and the department itself. He said he talked with firefighters who told him they use shift trading for tasks such as taking care of sick kids.
Alvey added his personal opinion is that this issue would blow over.
Some of the examples in the fire study concern firefighters who are union representatives. It is a fairly common practice in America for many union representatives at large employee organizations to work on union issues, as part of their jobs, and still receive their pay during that time. They represent other employees who may have a problem.
When asked what he thought about Mayor Holland recently leading an effort to raise the mayor’s salary, to take effect in four years, Alvey said, “I didn’t do this for the money, so whatever money comes, comes.” He said he will be taking a pay cut in compensation when he becomes mayor, leaving a job that paid better at Rockhurst High School.
Previous news stories on the issue of firefighters trading shifts and the firefighters’ approved contract with the UG are located at:
Special UG session to be Jan. 4 on firefighters trading report
UG contract with firefighters approved
Firefighters say they’ve reached tentative agreement with UG on contract
Firefighters upset about getting silent treatment at UG fire study meeting
Fire study calls for 5 percent cutback in personnel, consolidation of four stations, and more funding for facilities and equipment