Hash con­tin­ues com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion into fire depart­ment

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page - By Tia Lyons Staff Writer

An on­go­ing is­sue the El Do­rado Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion had hoped to put to rest last week will call for ad­di­tional ac­tion, per a di­rec­tive from Mayor Frank Hash.

On Thurs­day, com­mis­sion­ers sub­mit­ted to Hash the fi­nal draft of a let­ter de­tail­ing their find­ings in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion — con­ducted at Hash’s re­quest — into con­cerns about oper­a­tions of the El Do­rado Fire Depart­ment and Fire Chief Chad Mosby.

Hash re­quested the probe in March af­ter a se­ries of ar­ti­cles ap­peared in the News-Times re­gard­ing 2017 city bud­get cuts and their af­fect on staffing and ser­vices pro­vided by the fire depart­ment.

Mosby later ex­plained that the in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the news­pa­per ar­ti­cles led to a mis­un­der­stand­ing that spread among city of­fi­cials and lo­cal cit­i­zens.

The ar­ti­cles “cre­ated pub­lic alarm,” Hash said at the time, point­ing in par­tic­u­lar to a head­line for one of the sto­ries — “Fire Depart­ment bud­get cuts af­fect city’s safety.”

The mayor also con­tended that Mosby did not con­sult with city of­fi­cials on the mat­ter be­fore speak­ing with the News-Times and other lo­cal me­dia out­lets — an act that Hash said could war­rant dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, in­clud­ing dis­missal.

Fol­low­ing an ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion, civil ser­vice com­mis­sion­ers con­cluded that Mosby did not com­mit any wrong­do­ing that called for dis­ci­plinary ac­tion.

One of the cost-cut­ting mea­sures that Mosby im­ple­mented was a drop in min­i­mum staffing re­quire­ments per shift from 13 to 12.

The move was meant to help pare down over­time pay for fire­fight­ers, per a rec­om­men­da­tion by the city’s Fi­nance Com­mit­tee.

Mosby pre­vi­ously told civil ser­vice com­mis­sion­ers and the city’s Fi­nance Com­mit­tee that the cuts did not ad­versely af­fect fire depart­ment ser­vices or oper­a­tions or pose any threats to pub­lic safety.

“What the pub­lic should know is if they call the fire depart­ment … if you call for a fire truck or an am­bu­lance, you’ll get one,” Mosby told civil ser­vice com­mis­sion­ers on March 27. “Our

re­sponse time was less than five min­utes be­fore the bud­get cuts, and it’s less than five min­utes now.”

The fire chief also said then that he had re­sponded to hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tions that were posed by the for­mer News-Times re­porter who wrote the se­ries of sto­ries, ex­plain­ing that the re­porter pre­sented dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios and asked how larger bud­get cuts could af­fect lo­cal fire ser­vices.

The Fi­nance Com­mit­tee had asked city depart­ment heads to shave their 2017 bud­gets as much as pos­si­ble with­out cut­ting city ser­vices or jobs.

“While what was re­ported was ac­cu­rate, it didn’t tell the full con­text of the ques­tions that were asked of Mosby,” Scott Ellen, com­mis­sion chair­man, said Fri­day.

“He was asked what would hap­pen in the case of se­vere bud­get cuts — if more cuts were made, 14 per­cent, 15 per­cent —, what would that do to the num­ber of men and women on staff and equip­ment, and he said that would not be good,” Ellen said.

“He ex­plained how dam­ag­ing that would be,” he con­tin­ued. “The ar­ti­cle didn’t note the spe­cific ques­tions that were asked.”

Ellen said he dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion with Hash.

“The mayor charged

that Chief Mosby didn’t have to an­swer the ad­di­tional ques­tions,” Ellen said.

A fur­ther look Upon the com­ple­tion of the com­mis­sion’s ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Hash pressed the com­mis­sion to look fur­ther into the mat­ter.

He later said he had sat down with Mosby and gained a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion.

Min­i­mum staffing per shift has since been re­stored to 13 in the fire depart­ment.

Ad­di­tion­ally, a slot that been cut from the fire depart­ment’s uni­formed per­son­nel ros­ter has been added back to help fill open space due to three re­tire­ments so far this year, mil­i­tary leave and ex­tended med­i­cal leaves.

The depart­ment’s uni­formed per­son­nel ros­ter is now back up to 51.

Dur­ing a meet­ing ear­lier this month, civil ser­vice com­mis­sion­ers said they planned to send a writ­ten ex­pla­na­tion of their find­ings to Hash af­ter agree­ing on a fi­nal draft.

The draft was emailed to Hash on Thurs­day, and Ellen said he hand-de­liv­ered a copy to the mayor’s of­fice on Fri­day.

“While I fully ap­pre­ci­ate the thor­ough­ness of your in-depth find­ings, your ac­tual charge was not re­motely ad­dressed!” Hash replied in an email.

Re­fer­ring to his re­quest for a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in March, Hash again in­quired about

Mosby’s com­ments with lo­cal me­dia that seemed to in­di­cate “that the city of El Do­rado was ‘un­safe’ due to in­ad­e­quate sup­port from the city’s gov­ern­ing body, the city coun­cil?”

“The de­fense that he was ‘mis­quoted’ mul­ti­ple times via the many venues is to­tally bo­gus and strongly hints of mul­ti­ple cred­itabil­ity (sic) is­sues!” the mayor wrote.

He then sternly charged the com­mis­sion to con­tinue with its in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Al­low­ing a ma­jor depart­ment chief to ef­fec­tively yell fire in a crowded theater is a se­ri­ous mat­ter and must be dealt with in the strong­est of terms!” Hash wrote. “Please com­plete your task and quickly so!”

Find­ing a so­lu­tion Com­mis­sion­ers are now dis­cussing how to pro­ceed ac­cord­ingly.

Ellen said the group could add the item to the agenda for its next reg­u­lar meet­ing Aug. 14, but other com­mis­sion­ers said more im­me­di­ate ac­tion is needed to com­ply with the mayor’s lat­est re­quest as soon as pos­si­ble.

Com­mis­sioner Toddy Pi­tard said he is con­sid­er­ing call­ing a spe­cial meet­ing this week.

“I think we need to get the mayor and the civil ser­vice com­mis­sion in a room,” Pi­tard said. “We’re all pretty rea­son­able peo­ple, and I think we can get this worked out pretty quickly

and an­swer each other’s ques­tions and see if there’s some­thing we missed.”

He said the meet­ing should in­clude Mosby.

Mosby de­clined to com­ment, say­ing that he was un­aware of Hash’s email re­ply to com­mis­sion­ers on Fri­day.

Com­mis­sioner Ja­nis Van Hook agreed with Pi­tard, say­ing while the com­mis­sion is try­ing to de­ter­mine how best to move for­ward, she is con­fi­dent that the sit­u­a­tion can be re­solved.

“We don’t quite know what to do right now, but we as a group of com­mis­sion­ers need to con­tinue to work to find a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem,” Van Hook said.

Ellen said he un­der­stands the con­cerns of Hash and other city of­fi­cials.

“Do I think Chief Mosby could have talked to the mayor or the city coun­cil to let them know what he was go­ing to say? Yes, but hind­sight is … it’s one of those things where you don’t al­ways have the chance to do that,” Ellen said.

“Chief Mosby is best equipped to de­scribe to you, the me­dia, the pub­lic or any­body, what’s go­ing on with the fire depart­ment,” he con­tin­ued. “And I think they’re get­ting up­set with­out ac­cept­ing the fact that any of us would have an­swered those ques­tions the same way.”

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