Hash continues commission investigation into fire department
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.”