The Lackawanna City Council and Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski haven’t seen eye-to-eye on several issues over the last few months.
But none of them has been quite as contentious as Szymanski’s management of the Fire Department.
Members of the Council on Monday again blasted the mayor for entering into a memorandum of agreement with the Local 3166, Lackawanna Professional Fire Fighters Association, in February that assigned a minimum crew of nine firefighters, instead of eight, at three city fire stations.
Some Council members contended that the deal led to increased overtime costs and never was presented to the Council for ratification, as required by the City Charter.
Council President Henry R. Pirowski Jr. and 3rd Ward Councilman Joseph L. Jerge spent several minutes grilling City Attorney Antonio Savaglio about why the arrangement was still in effect when the Council never agreed to it.
Savaglio said the agreement was crafted prior to his appointment as city attorney and “should never have gone into effect without the Council’s approval.” Norman A. LeBlanc Jr. was city attorney at the time of the deal. LeBlanc moved on to become a city judge.
“If it was done in error, why can’t the mayor just stop doing it?” Pirowski asked.
Savaglio replied that if the mayor reneged on the deal, firefighters could have an unfair-labor-practice case against the city.
Savaglio had proposed a resolution whereby the Council could have voted to rescind the provisions of the memorandum of agreement.
But Council members balked at the proposal. About 20 members of the Fire Department showed up to watch the exchange in Council Chambers.
“Basically, the mayor wants us to clean up his mess,” Pirowski said. “I cannot rescind something that’s not legal.”
Jerge, too, was not happy.
“It really doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said. “We shouldn’t be forced to sit here in front of these fine firefighters to debate this because we didn’t do it.”
And 4th Ward Councilman Keith E. Lewis said the issues with the Fire Department were a clear case of mismanagement by the mayor. “He’s the leader of the city,” Lewis said.
Savaglio urged Council members to table the rescinding resolution, and the Council voted, 5-0, to do so.
Firefighters said understaffing – not minimum crews of nine firefighters – was the root cause of the overtime.
The city waited seven months before hiring three new firefighters who were approved in the 2012-13 budget, in an effort to bring down overtime costs, said Lt. James J. Fino.
Add their training into the equation, and it was almost a full year before those firefighters were working, he said.
Capt. Thomas R. Mendez said the city over the last several years has approved budget number for firefighter overtime that is “artificially low.”
But the city should still see a savings of nearly $100,000 – almost 20 percent – in overtime expenses for 2012-13, compared with 2011-12, when $511,000 was spent on firefighter overtime, Mendez said.