Saturday, May 17, 2008

Winners and Losers: Special Meeting of the Fall River City Council

There was little doubt as to the outcome.

The motion to change the hiring of a Fire Chief from Civil Service to a contract position would have passed during Tuesday's council meeting if it wasn't delayed by Steve Camara's procedural objection. That objection bought time, but it was obvious that this special meeting was scheduled so that there would be no time to change the minds of the council majority.

There was little doubt as to the outcome. Still, a group of firefighters assembled in front of Government Center. They stood in protest of this proposed change. Inside the Council Chamber was mostly empty. Some citizens were told that there was no entrance until the 1PM meeting time. Others were slowed down by the fact that the main entryway was closed due to construction work.

Shortly after 1PM the Council Chamber was filled to near capacity and although there was little doubt as to the outcome, it wasn't going to happen without a fight. First, an e-mail by Councilor Camara was read, in it he explained that due to a death in his family he might not be able to attend the meeting. Pulling no punches he expressed his disgust with the scheduling of this meeting, with the lack of courtesy shown to him, his fellow councilors and the people of Fall River. The councilor's e-mail clearly implied that this was politically motivated. He requested that the council reschedule to a time where he would be able to attend and that would be more convenient to the citizens of Fall River. This was the beginning of the fireworks. Camara's request was voted down and just as quickly a motion for a 30 minute recess was made by councilor Hague. That too was voted down. A request to allow for public input was voted down. A debate between Councilor Hague and President Camara resulted in Hague citing rules of the Charter that stating that the President can't debate from the podium. President Camara, with his face flushed red, exchanged positions with Vice President Casey so he could make his remarks from the floor. Every effort to bring the motion to a vote was delayed by Councilors Hague and Pelletier as each brought up other motions and spoke to express their outrage. Finally a recess requested by Councilor Pelletier was granted but once back the motion was brought to a vote and passed 6-2.

In the press conference that followed Mayor Correia was gracious in saying he understood and respected the efforts of those who objected. It was only then that I realized who the winners and losers really were.

Losers
Council President Joe Camara - It's hard to see his scheduling of this special meeting as anything other than politically motivated. It was his name that I heard firefighters grumbling about when leaving Government Center.

Councilor Pat Casey - Pat has to get special mention here - not only did she vote in favor but she the only councilor who spoke out against rescheduling and allowing public comment. In both instances her comments did her no favors and only made her look insensitive and in the Mayor's pocket.

Councilor Mike Lund - Councilor Lund made a statement defending this as a bold move and saying that Civil Service doesn't work. It was a statement that had more polish than anything I've heard Lund say before but it had several firefighters saying that he had his facts wrong.

Councilor Tom Kozak - Kozak played it smart, he didn't say anything! Still Tom was not a top vote getter this last time around (he finished 8th) and he voted against rescheduling, against public input and for the motion. Unless the firefighters and firefighters union forget this could cost him some votes next election.

Councilor Linda Pereira - Every other loser on this list isn't facing the voters until the Fall of 2009 but Linda is running for State Rep. and has to face the music this Fall! Chances are the firefighters union and the firefighters themselves are not going to be voting for Linda!

Winners

Councilor Steve Camara - Not only has Steve spoken out against this he saved the day on Tuesday with his procedural vote. On top of that the scheduling of the meeting seems to have been planned to keep him away. Come the next election several firefighters will remember how Councilor Camara was on their side.

Councilor Ray Hague - Hague was fiery, compassionate, and crafty. Although he didn't do it alone, Hague was the big reason that Friday's meeting turned out to be a more than just a quick 5 minute vote. Come next election it will be remembered that Hague fought this tooth and nail.

Councilor Leo Pelletier - Poor Leo, if this has happened a few months ago he might be State Rep. right now and if he was running in the Fall this might have put him past Kevin Aguiar. Leo doesn't need any help on election day to maintain his council seat. Leo was, well Leo, loud and outspoken. His efforts here will just ensure him another top place finish.

Mayor Robert Correia - Yeah, I know but, Bob's proposal is one step closer to becoming reality and while sitting up on the 6th floor he was able to stay above the ugly fray in the Council Chamber.

Councilor Cathy Ann Viveiros - Yes Cathy Ann did vote for this proposal. However, hearing her talk to various people I've come to the conclusion that she's the only councilor who could convince you that it was the right decision.

The Fall River firefighters - I know they lost the battle but there is still a few opportunities to win the war and I think public opinion is going to be firmly on their side.

14 comments:

General said...

I believe that there was one other loser in this fiasco:

The citizens of Fall River.

Not because of the eventual vote, but the way the governmental procedure was handled. This manuevering left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. I been told by several that they had it with what is taking place.

The reason I mention this is that this reaction did not come from the everyday person, but from people who have been involved in government for years.

Bob is the big winner, not because he got his way with the council, but because he has solidify his power base.

One last item about this emergency meeting. Check to see in the past how many times a regular meeting was re-scheduled because a councilor had to go on vacation.

Joe Camara, could not hold off till Monday due to the funeral Steve had to attend?

Anonymous said...

The way this was handled is the issue and we will see who the losers are very soon. You see this
only provoked many citizens who usually sit by and watch politics at it's best to get together and do something about the loss of democracy .

Anonymous said...

Team 5 Investigation Prompts Statewide Audit
State Contract, Temp Workers Losing Out On Benefits

POSTED: 1:51 pm EST November 29, 2007
UPDATED: 6:16 pm EST November 29, 2007


BOSTON -- The Massachusetts State Auditor will review the jobs of thousands of state workers following a Team 5 Investigates report showing how many of them have been cheated out of health care and other benefits.

NewsCenter 5's Sean Kelly reported Thursday that contract workers have been doing the same job for years that full-fledged state employees have been doing but they don't get any of the benefits.

Critics say it's a political shell game to make it look like the state is shrinking the size of government. In reality, the number of contract workers rose in each of the four years Mitt Romney was governor of the commonwealth.

"I think it's wrong," said State Auditor Joe DeNucci. "I think the only time we should use consultants, contractors if you will, is when the ordinary workforce can't handle it."

DeNucci believes many workers have lost out on benefits because state agencies have misused contract or temporary workers.

Workers aren't the only ones losing out, according to Dr. Elaine Bernard, who heads the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

"It reduces the quality of services that are offered and once you start to send out a message that anything goes in the labor market, it hurts everyone," said Bernard.

Team 5 Investigates found the misuse of contract workers is a chronic problem dating back at least 20 years.

DeNucci's Office audited the Departments of Mental Health, Public Welfare and Social Services 1987 and found similar problems.

"There's no question that some of these agencies have ignored our recommendations and our findings," DeNucci said.

The auditor attributes that indifference to poor oversight and a lack of political will by previous administrations.

"It really doesn't appear to get better," DeNucci said. "So we're going to do another statewide audit and issue a report and really go after it."

This audit comes after the Patrick Administration told Team 5 Investigates it will also conduct a review of the state's use of temporary and contract workers. The state's human resources director says he wants to make sure everyone's being treated fairly and tax dollars aren't being wasted.

Lefty said...

General,

I didn't include the citizens of Fall River because I think that is still to be determined.

The council vote is not the last word on this but to get it overturned the citizens will have to exercise their rights and their voice.

That doesn't happen enough, really hardly at all, but if it happens here I think the citizens would clearly be on the winners list!

Lefty said...

If you're wondering HOW we exercise our voice? Check out Fall River-tastic for the answer!

http://speakupfallriver.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

What's the big deal? I get the fratenal aspect of the firefighters sticking together, and all. But is it really going to make much of a difference whether the Chief is a civil service position or a direct appointment? I wish that the firefighters who showed so much passion defending their chief would show the same when it comes to living in this city or getting involved in other important issues. I have no sympathy for those only motivated by self-interest. This should never have been a big story.

Anonymous said...

from speakup fall river...


Irony is – when a Fall River City Councilor, who is a civil servant by day, votes to do away with the civil service process in hiring a fire chief.

City Councilor Tom Kozak, a veteran civil servant with the Department of Transportation, voted without hesitation, to do away the civil service process for hiring a fire chief. Councilor Tom Kozak, who has enjoyed the benefits of a civil service process, was ignorant enough to take that same benefit away from the fire department chief. Tom Kozak can’t dislike the civil service system too much if he is willing to accept over $105,000.00 a year from his job as a civil servant.
Click here for Kozak's job details

He is an air traffic controller with the Federal Department of Transportation. Although different positions, a federal air traffic controller is still a member of the same governmental civil service system that the fire chief was.

Is it just me? I don’t get it…If Councilor Kozak feels that civil service is a bad idea, wouldn’t he stop being a civil servant?

Lefty said...

anon 8:52

Maybe you're right, maybe this change really won't make much of a difference. So, why change it?

The "big deal" isn't the proposal, which might have merit. It is the process.

Imagine if this were an issue you did care about. Wouldn't you be outraged if the council seemed to have no interest in your opinion? Wouldn't you be furious if the council president scheduled a special meeting, at the last minute at an hour that would make it difficult to attend? Wouldn't you be more outraged to learn that he did this knowing that one of the councilor's in opposition wouldn't be able to attend?


The Mayor and the city council may have followed the letter of the law but not the spirit.

Anonymous said...

TO WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?

Again, the democratic process
is the big deal.........

The firefighters are just the beginning, have you ever watched a school committee meeting and how dismissive the mayor is?

Maybe it will be a big deal when it hits you in the pocket, school budget, your taxes, crime rate or
are you above all that ??

Anonymous said...

Here we go, portion of letter read it in the Herald News.

Our Current City Personnel Director was the Director at
Quaker Fabric- she didn't know
the law or abide by it???


Over the July 4th holiday last year, Quaker Fabric closed its door without a word of warning to its 900 employees. As recently as two years ago, the company employed 2,500 people in and around Fall River — many of whom, like Joe, have been unable to find work in the months and years since the plant’s closure.
When 200 employees were laid off in the summer of 2006, Quaker Fabric blamed “fierce competition from imported Chinese fabrics.” Whatever explanations the company offered for its struggles, it does not excuse Quaker Fabric’s utter failure to inform a loyal workforce of its impending closure.
This responsibility goes beyond moral judgment. Twenty years ago, my friend and senior colleague — Sen. Ted Kennedy, the chairman of the HELP Committee and the Senate’s greatest champion for workers everywhere — helped to write the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The WARN Act requires employers to provide advance notice of 60 days to employees as well as state and local officials in the event of a mass layoff or plant closure. This advance notice is meant to allow workers and their families some transition time to adjust to the loss of employment, to seek and obtain alternative jobs and, if necessary, to seek skills training.
In this economy, finding a good job can be very difficult.Companies must realize this and give the advance notice that is required under law.
However, as Joe and his former coworkers are finding out, loopholes within the law and the inability of the federal government to enforce it have allowed for too many companies to sidestep their responsibilities. In 2003, the GAO found that in two-thirds of the layoffs and closures where the WARN Act applied, employers failed to provide notice to employees.That is unacceptable — and it is a violation of the law.
Under the law today, it’s clear that too much of the burden falls on employees who must navigate the courts to prove their employers violated the WARN Act. Now, instead of receiving advanced notice and help in transitioning to a new job, Joe is stuck battling the Quaker Fabric Estate in a Delaware court. The case has been tied up since September of last year.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what happened to the Fall River Blogspot???

It has been removed

Anonymous said...

check it out , referendum petition is on !!

http://speakupfallriver.blogspot.com/2008/05/referendum-petition-is-on.html#links

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the City Council rarely acts in the best interest of the majority of residents in this city. It's very much an insider's type of Council. If people actually cared about electing qualified, intelligent people (the ones that haven't long-since fled), it might be worth the bother worrying about how the Council acts.

I routinely watch how they handle their affairs, and I am dissapointed that this issue, amongst all the others that we've ever had to worry about, is the one that get's the firefighters attention. I'm sorry, but it's better for the voters to have the position be an appointed one (like the Police Chief), because we can hold the Mayor responsible for a bad choice. Every other Department Head/Leader in the City serves at the will of the Mayor, so why not have everyone underneath him - like a real organization?

Anonymous said...

Comparing the Police Dept to the Fire Dept is apples and oranges. If a big enough crime happens in Fall River the local police respond then maybe the state police then maybe the FBI, etc. The local police chief becomes a subordinate to a larger entity when something "big" happens. When a "big" fire occurs the local fire chief gets called to the scene and any other fire apparatus that respond to the scene from wherever end up under his command. The Fire Chief's authority does not get usurped. You want a chief that isn't a political appointment but someone who hopefully rose up through the ranks, achieved the best possible score on civil service and who knows every square inch of the city. In one word someone who is "qualified" and not a political hack. Not to say that Mayor Correia would appoint a political hack, he may or he may not but we can't take that chance. Give me civil service or some type or criteria or scoring system so that as a taxpayer I can be assured that my fire chief at least knows the area and the property he is sworn to protect and defend.