City Burning?

City hired fire service ‘consultant’ ICMA recommendations challenged across America

Part 7: Hired consultant a hired gun?

Is this ‘political cover’ for effort to cut or merge police and fire services?

By ED FINKELSTEIN

Publisher

St. Louis - The City of St. Louis announced plans to bring in an outside consultant – at the cost of $270,000 – to study fire, police and EMS services, a consultant that has come under heavy criticism across the country from city officials, fire officials, fire fighters unions and from a group that understands the fire service better than anyone, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The company has been described as both “anti-fire and anti-union.”

In many cities ICMA has recommended combining the fire and police services. A fire official in Saginaw, MI called it a “bunch of garbage” when the ICMA recommended combining police and fire departments to increase efficiency in fire response services and cross-training police to do fire fighters work and fire fighters to do police work.

MOST DEVASTATING CRITICISM

However, the most direct, and absolutely devastating criticism of ICMA’s tactics came from two fire chiefs, one active, one retired, who attended an ICMA conference of public officials in Rochester, Minnesota, June 2011 sponsored by the League of Minnesota Cities. Their description of the program:

“…the content was a negative, opinion-based, fact deficient portrayal of the American fire service. Attendees were provided misinformation and inaccurate, unsupported facts. The script was masterfully designed to guide a relatively naïve audience (as it relates to how their police and fire departments operate) toward finding fault with their fire department with little mention of how to assess the good things the fire department,” said Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway and Plymouth, MN Fire Chief Richard C. Kline in a blistering critique they jointly published after attending the meeting.

According to the IAFF, ICMA “uses skewed data to persuade city councils to make changes to fire departments…” adding that while “there is a small contingent of truly independent, unbiased consultants, all to often the process and subsequent report are biased due to the relationship between the jurisdiction and the consultant – or due to the predisposition of the consultant.

“IAFF affiliates should also be wary of the ICMA Consulting Group,” the IAFF report notes, adding that the company’s frontman, Leonard Matarese, is a former police officer with no fire fighting experience.

MANY COMPLAINTS

Complaints from cities across America about ICMA’s work. Some examples:

Benton Harbor, MI – A fire official noted “The only thing they (ICMA) did was scratch off another municipality’s name and put Benton Harbor on it.”

Lacey, WA –ICMI recommended the community withdraw from a local fire district and form its own fire department. The issue FAILED in a public referendum. The officials supporting the failed effort – the incumbent mayor, deputy mayor and the senior-most city council member – were ousted from office at the next election.

•Lake Havasau, AZ – An ICMA study that suggested cuts in fire fighter staffing and a change in personnel shift hours was rejected by community leaders because of “flawed” and “error-filled” data. It turned out that the data in the report were not even from the city.

Ann Arbor, MI – Fire officials report that the apparatus and staffing information in the ICMA report were inaccurate. That information was the basis for the balance of the report’s analysis and recommendations.

Grand Island, NE – Backup information provided to the various recommendations had little relevance to Grand Island. The report did not create a single assessment with recommendations for the system on the whole.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT FOR BOARD OF ALDERMEN

“It’s clear from everything we’ve heard from around the country that any municipality dealing with ICMA does so at their own risk,” said Mark Woolbright, IAFF 2nd District vice president located in St. Louis, a member of St. Louis County Fire Fighters Local 2665.

“I think a recent warning from the IAFF about the motives behind hiring ICMA should give St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen something to think about:

“ ‘Often, it is simply a matter of following the money. For example, a consultant may be paid to provide a report to the local government to provide political cover for making cuts to fire department staffing and resources. If the recommendations are not in line with the administration’s view, it will be less likely to refer a consultant to others. Defying the keeper of the purse is not a sustainable business model for a consultant who relies on continued contracts to maintain a business.’

“The question I have is simply this,” Woolbright asked: “Mayor Francis Slay has already indicated in his current budget proposal that he wants to close at least two fire houses, which will mean a reduction of the force. Is his hiring of ICMA a ‘cover’ for his wanting to deplete the fire service’s manpower, which if it happens, will certainly put city residents at risk?

“He’s already put the end results out there, now he only needs justification…and ICMA is going to provide it.”

FIRST STEP: BREAK UNION?

“There’s not doubt in my mind, in our union’s mind, that’s exactly what the mayor is doing,” added Fire Fighters Local 73 President Chris Molitor. “Under the guise of ‘efficiency’ he brings in a company that is known to be anti-fire service and anti-union. The mayor’s goal is clear: break the fire fighters union as the first step to busting the police officers union and the public employees’ unions. He’s using the pension issue as his hammer, both with the public and with the Board of Aldermen.”

“And it’s not only the fire fighters, but our police that are at risk as well because this company has a history of recommending merging of the two essential public services. I seriously doubt the citizens of St. Louis will stand for that,” Molitor added.

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