Las Vegas Sun

August 31, 2015

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Union balks at city’s plan to review Las Vegas fire department

Despite a charge from the president of the firefighters union that it was an attempt to “dismantle” the fire department, a new study of the city’s fire department was approved Wednesday by the Las Vegas City Council.

On a 5-1 vote, with one abstention, the council approved a 90-day study that will be done by the International City/County Management Association’s Center for Public Safety Management.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian voted against the measure, and Ward 3 Councilman Bob Coffin abstained after raising questions about whether the study was needed and because the organization, ICMA, didn’t send anyone to answer any questions about it.

According to Karen Coyne, the city’s chief public safety officer, the $155,000 study, which includes $10,000 travel expenses for the consultants, would provide the city with unbiased information on the department’s performance.

“For the record, this is absolutely not an attempt to do anything other than to maintain our commitment to this community, this organization, to be better tomorrow than we are today,” Coyne said.

The study will look at a number of issues, including training, salaries, overtime and 24-hour shifts.

Tarkanian, however, said she felt “very uneasy” about the timing of the study being conducted while the city is at an impasse in its contract negotiations with the firefighters union. She also didn’t understand why the study was needed.

The vote came after Dean Fletcher, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1285, told council members that any information they wanted is already available. He indicated the city was attempting to use the ICMA study to gain leverage against firefighters in negotiations.

Fletcher charged that ICMA was basically the “union” for city managers around the country and that Betsy Fretwell, Las Vegas’ city manager, has written articles for its publication.

“These studies are being done throughout the United States to dismantle fire departments, for no other reason,” Fletcher told the council. “I want to make it clear to you as a council, it’s the City of Las Vegas that declared impasse and walked away from the table, not your firefighters.”

He said firefighters are ready to go back and resume negotiations. “It’s up to you whether you want to come back to the table,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said the city declared impasse with firefighters on May 31.

“It sure seems like a quick turnaround to request a study,” he said.

Fletcher said the ICMA report will be a “redundant study.”

“We’re paying for information that we already have, that you already have and that the city manager already has,” he said.

Before Fletcher spoke, Ward 6 Councilman Steve Ross said the cost of the study is “pennies” compared to the city’s general fund budget.

Ross said he was originally against the study but it could be used by the city staff and the union.

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