Largest turnout for council meeting in recent memory
University City – The city council here got an earful from residents about the suspension of five fire fighters over a photo appearing in a candidate brochure and the conduct of City Manager Lehman Walker, whose handling of the suspension many residents called “political.”
Nearly 100 fire fighters and residents holding “I Support our Firefighters” signs turned out during rush hour for a rally in front of city hall prior to last month’s council meeting. The frequent honking of horns in support were often as loud as the citizens’ criticisms voiced in the meeting.
Immediately following the meeting, Fire Fighters Local 2665 presented the five suspended fire fighters with $500 checks as a first installment from the union to ensure they can continue to support their families until the issue is resolved.
A local citizen has started a separate fund drive to raise $75,000 to pay the fire fighters’ salaries and legal expenses. A website – www.ucity6.com – has been set up to accept donations. (See separate story on Page ???.)
The controversy started after six fire fighters from Local 2665 posed for photographs featured in two brochures for candidates challenging incumbents in the April 8 election. Five of the fire fighters were suspended for three months without pay for posing for the photos, even though they were on their own time and not in U City uniforms, which is allowed under state and local law.
A sixth fire fighter in the photos is already on medical leave and had not been suspended, yet.
“The suspensions are pure vindictiveness on the part of a short-sighted administration,” said 45-year resident John Woodworth, noting that laying off the five fire fighters was the city “cutting off its nose to spite its face.
“We’re in a real dilemma. If two fires break out at one time, we’re in trouble. In terms of politics, we’re seeing the worst of U City. It’s awful. This is mean-spirited. I don’t understand how they (the council and the city manager) can live with themselves.”
MORE CITIZENS SPEAK OUT
Those sentiments were repeated over and over as citizens spoke out in defense of the fire fighters and against the severe punishment:
• Lisa Hummel, 25-year resident, who held a hand-made protest sign at the rally, said: “What’s happened is not only not fair, it’s un-American. Lots of people are disgusted by it.”
At the council meeting, she, like almost all the speakers, gave voice to the political nature of the suspensions: “Clearly, this disciplinary action has nothing to do with actual job performance… (it was) vindictive and intimidating, an inappropriate response to the fire fighters’ political actions.”
Hummel called on council members to “show some real leadership.”
• Resident Jeff Hales called the city manager’s action “disappointing, saddening and dumbfounding, but I suppose I should not be surprised.”
Hale was an unsuccessful challenger in the recent city elections.
• Frank Ollendorff, a former city manager, said,” We need to value our employees and support them. They do a good job. I’m here to support valuable people.”
• Roger Franklin, a 25-year resident, said: “It boils down to ethical behavior. The first responsibility of the city is its community’s well being. They can’t allow personal issues to intervene…. It’s imperative the administration support their fire fighters.”
Franklin is a fire captain in Wellston.
During the meeting, Councilmen Terry Crow, Paulette Carr and Arthur Sharpe Jr. all asked penetrating questions critical of City Manager Walker.
Walker offered terse, often one-word, responses
Crow noted that the turnout for the council meeting was one of the largest he’d seen since taking office. He thanked residents for their concern and urged them to keep up their pressure on the council, four of whose members have fought the fire fighters are counting on residents to forget the issue.
CITIZENS CRITICIZE WALKER
During the meeting, residents lambasted Walker for the way he handled the issue without any concern for what a three-month suspension will do to the fire fighters’ families.
Many were critical of other actions he has taken as city manager.
In particular, several residents mentioned an article Walker wrote in the March/April edition of the city’s newsletter – the first he’s ever written – praising incumbent candidates running for re-election but leaving out Council members Carr and Crow, who often challenge his decisions.
The newsletter was mailed, at city expense, 10 days before the election. Residents said the article in the newsletter amounted to a political contribution in violation of city ordinances.
Walker did not face his accusers, but looked off in the distance, shuffled papers and cleaned his nails while they spoke.
Community fundraisers to help suspended fire fighters
University City – In an effort to ensure that five (and possibly six) U City fire fighters, members of Fire Fighters Local 2665, suspended without pay by can feed their families, make their house payments and cover daily living expenses, U City resident Cindy Thierry has established a community crowd sourcing website to raise $75,000 to maintain the fire fighters’ salaries and cover potential legal expenses.
Contriburions can be made online at http://www.crowdrise.com/ucityfirefighters/fundraiser
Checks can also be mailed to “U-City 6 Fund,” c/o Dave Marlo, 115 McMenamy, St. Peters, Missouri 63376. Marlo is the local’s secretary-treasurer.
At Labor Tribune press time Monday, the fund had raised $0,000 from 00 donors.
Other fund raising events Thierry has organized:
• Sunday, May 18 – Flacos Cocina, 8400 Delmar, will donate 20 percent of sales the entire day.
• Thursday, May 22 – PinUp Bowl, 6191 Delmar, will provide free bowling for a fund donation.
“What is happening in a gross injustice,” Thierry said. “The community needs to stand behind their fire fighters.”
She knows from personal experience.
U City fire fighters responded several years ago when she had a major fire at her home.