WATERTOWN — Fire Chief Dale C. Herman and Deputy Chief Russell J. Randall were the only members of the city’s management team not to receive 2 percent salary increases in the newly adopted budget.
The two top fire departments officials have been criticized for not taking the city’s side in a nearly three-year contract dispute with the firefighters’ union.
City Manager Sharon A. Addison told the two chiefs last week that she decided not to give them the 2 percent increases. Councilman Cody J. Horbacz confirmed that council members were notified on Friday and before the matter of salary increases came up for a budget vote on Monday.
Councilman Horbacz noticed that the two leaders of the fire department were left off a list for the salary increases, but all the other 34 members of the management team received the wage increases. The city manager cited “job performance,” he said.
Chief Herman will continue to earn an annual salary of $92,679, while Deputy Chief Randall will earn $85,591. The $57,000 in wage increases for the other managers — which include accountants, supervisors in the water department and the heads of parks, public works and police departments — go into effect on July 1 when the new fiscal year begins.
On Wednesday, the city manager declined to comment specifically about why she didn’t give salary increases to the two fire chiefs, citing it was “a personnel matter.”
“I think it speaks for itself,” she said, adding it was her discretion who received them.
In her five previous budgets, Ms. Addison acknowledged she never withheld a salary increase from another member of the city’s management team when everyone else received an increase.
During an ongoing contentious contract dispute with the firefighters’ union, Ms. Addison has criticized Chief Herman for not being a team player on the contract issue. In January, Ms. Addison gave Chief Herman an ultimatum and threatened his job if he didn’t take the city’s side in the contract battle with the Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191.
A week later, Chief Randall also was taken to task when he unsuccessfully lobbied for the city to apply for a federal grant that would help the city pay for hiring six firefighters.
During a council meeting then, Chief Randall said he had previously been advised by City Attorney Robert J. Slye to be careful what he had to say since he was there in an official capacity and would not be protected for free speech, so he could face disciplinary charges after contradicting the city’s stance on the fire department.
Contacted by phone, Chief Herman, who’s teaching at the state’s Fire Academy in Montour Falls this week, had no comment about the city’s manager’s decision.
Chief Randall also said he was reluctant to talk about it until he heard about an inquiry he made into the city manager about the policies and procedures regarding job performance reviews for the city’s mid-level managers.
“At this point, I’m not going to comment,” he said.
In the past, the managers have not gone through job performance reviews. It was unclear whether the fire chiefs received job reviews. The pay raise has also, on occasion, been considered by council members as a cost-of-living increase.
Calling it “performance issues,” Councilman Stephen A. Jennings agreed with the city manager’s decision about no pay raises for the two top fire department administrators. Pay raises are “merit-based,” he said.
“She did not feel they merited an increase,” he said.
The city manager told him that she criticized the two fire department officials for their efforts in developing a new deployment model after eight fire captains were demoted to firefighters last July, Councilman Jennings said.
They were tasked to come up with a new deployment plan for the department’s personnel and fleet of vehicles as the result of the demoted captains. The contract talks became increasingly bitter after the eight captains were demoted.
Councilman Jennings reiterated that he also was displeased with the way the two fire chiefs have handled six-figure increases in staff overtime and sick time, so he, too, felt the pay raises were not warranted.
Councilman Horbacz said Wednesday he was surprised to hear about the two fire officials not getting pay raises.
“(Ms. Addison) believed they essentially were not supportive of the city manager’s directives,” he said.
The councilman figured the issue of management salary increases would have come up during Monday’s meeting before the budget was adopted, but it did not. He stressed that he opposed pay raises for all of the management team members because it was such a difficult budget year.
Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. said that it was the city manager’s discretion to hand out pay raises, declining to comment further because it’s a personnel matter.
The 70-member firefighters’ union has been without a contact since July 2014.
The minimum manning clause in the contract — that stipulates 15 firefighters must be on duty at all times — has been the main sticking point in the stalled contract. The city contends that minimum manning causes overstaffing, while the union argues that it would be unsafe to eliminate it.
On May 24, the city and the union went before the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in Rochester for oral arguments to determine whether an arbitration case should proceed regarding the eight demoted fire captains. The city fought against going to arbitration.
The two sides are expected to hear within the next two weeks about the results of the appellate case, Ms. Addison said.
The two chiefs continue to work on how to deal with demoted captains and find a way to cut staff.
Last Friday, an unpaid adviser, Stephen P. Jellie, former deputy chief of the Fort Drum Fire Department, met for the second time with Chief Herman about issues involving the fire department.
The session lasted about five hours, which also was attended by Chief Randall and former city water superintendent Michael J. Sligar, a member of the city’s negotiating team.
The conversation revolved around Mr. Jellie’s ideas for deployment models.
In an recent phone call to a Watertown Daily Times reporter, Mr. Jellie explained why he decided to get involved in the contract dispute, even though the former Great Bend resident now lives out of state and works for U.S. Army Garrison’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
He knew that the contract talks were stalled and decided he just wanted to help. Mr. Jellie said.
The two parties “need to get back to the table,” he said, adding that “mistrust” exists between the union and city officials that’s causing the talks to stall. He insisted that he doesn’t have any ulterior motives.
Mr. Jellie said that he has some ideas for improving the efficiency of the fire department because its present model cannot “be sustainable.” He declined to give any specifics about his suggestions for the fire department.
No other subsequent meetings are currently scheduled for Mr. Jellie to attend, Ms. Addison said.
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