Koed’s prepared remarks Selectmen’s March 22, meeting
Mr. Chairman, I have serious public policy concerns around the Cohasset Police contract1 recently negotiated on behalf of the Cohasset Board of Selectmen by the Acting Town Manager. That contract was signed by all of us as selectmen in late January.
On review of the contract by this Board, I trusted the Acting Town Manager’s explanation of the highlights of the document. Unfortunately, one item in the contract that was neither mentioned by the Acting Town Manager, nor reviewed by this Board, is one that marks the biggest single change to the Cohasset Police and Fire Departments in the history of the Town.
We are prohibited by the executive session requirements of the Open Meeting Law from going into the specifics of what was discussed in our legally closed session of January 29. It is clear to me however that the items in question were not reviewed in any meeting of this or any other board or committee of the Town.
It is just as clear to me that the Acting Town Manager negotiated an absolutely revolutionary change in the operation of our public safety agencies. He did so without the guidance of this Board or review by the citizens and tax payers of Cohasset.
The parts of the contract at the heart matter are found in the section on stipends for police officers in which a new stipend pay category titled “Fireman One TBA” is found. That one phrase authorizes future payments for any police officer that goes through fire fighter training to become certified at the grade of Fire Fighter One.
Simply put, that one seemingly innocuous change means one thing: It means that our police officers may be cross-trained as fire fighters so they can and will do the work of Cohasset firefighters. Friend and foe alike of the idea have to be honest and admit that is a revolutionary change, one being proposed with no public transparency or debate, and no open public discussion by this Board.
Several Cohasset fire fighters asked me about this passage in the Police contract. As I did my own checking, I first thought the concerns raised were baseless. I thought it was impossible that any change of this magnitude could be in the new Agreement with the police union simply because nothing like it was mentioned to us by the Acting Town Manager. Nothing like it was brought to us for review, nor proposed by us.
My next reaction was to get a copy of the executed police contract because I had also been told that the stipend was $4,000/yr. I ran the numbers as if this line had been fully implemented with 16 policemen at $4,000 per year, which came to $64,000 per year. I am dumbfounded.
As the significance of what had happened became clear to me, my greatest disappointment was with myself, as I had not gone through the contract with a fine tooth comb.
I started to then think about how truly significant the implications for town government were. The biggest single public safety policy decision in Cohasset history, cross training policemen to be firemen was in an executed contract.
Not a single vote, by a single board on the merits of public safety cross training. No official public study group. No public report. Not a single report in any newspaper. Not an agenda item on any meeting of this Board. No opportunity for the Advisory Board to review a major change in the function and structure of Town government. Not a single report on any blog.
I have worked hard over many years to develop an expertise in public policy. In various elections I have had to take positions of public safety staffing levels and many other complex issues. I especially pride myself in my knowledge of the Fire Department and the dynamics of our Mutual Aid Agreements in place with our neighboring towns.
My first position in Cohasset Town Government was an appointment by the Board of Selectmen, back in the 1980s, to a three-person committee charged with investigating an incident of a Cohasset ladder truck responding to a mutual aid dispatch to a fire in Hull.
A Cohasset Fire Chief on the site of a working fire, used our brand new ladder truck’s ladder as a battering ram to knock plywood out of a window with a young Cohasset firefighter at the top of the ladder.
As part of that investigation I interviewed the fire chiefs of Hull and Hingham. That was when I first became aware of how important yet how delicate mutual aid agreements are. It was especially delicate at the time, because Cohasset was considering cutting its Fire Department further than most surrounding towns by any objective measure. The Hingham Fire Chief told me if Cohasset cut its Fire Department much further, Hingham could consider backing out of the mutual aid agreement with Cohasset. That is something we would never want to see happen for the safety of our lives and property in the community.
With 26 years of local government experience behind me you can imagine how upset I became considering the ramifications of this action without consulting our surrounding communities. Just as the Acting Town Manager apparently thought it OK to insert this clause into the police contract without our direction, he thought not at all about the absolute need to communicate with our neighbors. Even if the idea has merit, does anyone think that Cohasset – the smallest town on the South Shore and the smallest in Norfolk County – can go this route by ourselves? What are the ramifications for the fire contract now being negotiated, and for labor – management relations in general?
Could it ever be considered good public sector management to simply propel Cohasset to ‘go it alone’ in an undertaking defined by agreements with a host of other communities and another bargaining unit?
Sure enough, within days I had my answer. I’ve been informed that the union representing all professional fire fighters in the state was highly concerned about this issue in Cohasset.
The problems I can anticipate – and already see – with this proposal are exactly why we are supposed to have any serious public policy change fully vetted through open public discussion before it ever comes close to implementation. That is why we have the Open Meeting Law. That is why we all cherish our open democratic form of government that has existed in Cohasset longer than our country has existed.
For the last week I have been working to figure out the best way to begin to clean up this mess. Any change as revolutionary as the one clearly being advanced by the Acting Town Manager needs to be fully reviewed by us. Most importantly, it needs to be debated by the people who put us here — the citizens of Cohasset themselves.
How did this contract short circuit the public vetting process? As a leader, I believe I have a responsibility to come forward to take make a stand for a new level of integrity in Cohasset Town Government. To the citizens of Cohasset, I apologize from the deepest recesses of my being for my failure in not catching this before it got this far. I cannot be more fully committed to cleaning up this mess.
I’m not certain how we as the Board of Selectmen, let alone as we as a Town, resolve this issue. I do know we first need to find out what happened. It cannot remain a mystery as to how such a wholesale change in Town government made it so far into a legally binding document with no public input nor review by this Board
I do know something has gone very wrong in the Town of Cohasset. I do know this can never happen again. I look forward to a full review of this by this Board as soon as possible.
The end of Koed’s Prepared Statement
Acting town manager Mike Milanoski discounted Koed’s statement, saying he had spoken to the fire union, “and the information he had was also incorrect. It’s important to know that we are in negotiations with the fire union.” Milanoski said all the contract he negotiated with police did was put $10,000 into the budget for EMT training. Milanoski told Koed not to worry about the Level Two Specialist, EMT/´MT-P and Firefighter 1. He said that could be funded or not funded at a later time. Milanoski said it would require a future discussion, because the union contract would have to come back to the board.
Koed said: “This could be the greatest idea in the world. But we have to have public meetings and talk about it. I’m flabbergasted. This is the first public discussion, we already have money in the budget and we’re half way down the road.”
“I’m very proud that we are inexpensively training Police as EMT’s,” Milanoski said.
Koed countered that he was not talking about EMT training. “You’re proposing cross training police and fire. It’s in the contract right now,” he said, referring back to Firefighter One.
“No one is trying to do Firefighter 1 at this point. That requires 300 hours of training. I’m just looking to get the Police certified as EMTs,” Milanoski said.
“You are not the Board of Selectmen. We like to know about this before it happened,” Koed said, pointing out that Cohasset had never publicly studied the issue. In a discussion after the meeting Koed said Holland, Michard had done a four-year study on the issue that concluded that towns shouldn’t cross-train cops and fighters. http://www.firehouse.com/news/10894944/mich-study-says-dont-cross-train-cops-firefighters
Selectman Gjesteby said while it had been discussed at other boards, it had not been discussed at this board.
“This is where the rubber hits the road,” Selectman Diane Kennedy said. “The question is there are all kinds of rules and regulations about who can do what and when, and public policy implication and practical applications. What are we giving them? Are we allowing it (Firefighter 1) to happen? What are the implications with the unions?
Milanoski said there was no value (money) assigned to Firefighter 1 in the contract. It has to come back to you for your approval.”=
Kennedy countered: “If something has no value it doesn’t belong in a contract.”
Town Counsel Paul DeRensis said “Every word has meaning. If you have a provision with no funding you’ve agreed to the concept. You agree to the principal. At any time you can make that commitment.”
Koed said “Those three words in there (To Be Announced -TBA) have the authority to spend whatever money is found that that purpose, without approval of the board of selectmen. TBA – To be announced, by whom?” What is TBA – is it $1,000, $2,000, $3,000? The board needs to know the budget implications. Please give us the budget implications. Give us stipends, over-time costs, pay to training. Three words (TBA) in this police contract as the same effect as an article in the warrant or an article at town meeting. What’s the restraint?”
DeRensis noted that the town has an unusual Town Manager Act. “It does not have any measure in it for approval of collective bargaining agreements by the board of selectmen. It doesn’t give them any approval authority. It gives you (Milanoski) the authority to negotiate these contracts.”
Ralph Dormitzer, a member of the governance committee, said the amendment to the town manager act will take care of the contract authority. (Editor’s note: If it passes.)
“I have too many questions. Let’s bring this into the public domain,” Koed said.
“This is a no brainer. It doesn’t have to go public,” Jenkins said.
“This is a selectmen’s meeting, we are townspeople,” Agnes McCann said, adding that she was angered by Jenkins saying it was a no brainer.
Selectman Chair Paul Carlson ruled McCann out of order.
At midnight, selectmen went into executive session to discuss Police Lieutenant Union Collective Bargaining, Clerical Union Collective bargaining, Police and Fire Union Collective Bargaining, Health Care, Reorganization of Union and Non-Union Personnel.
More blogs covering the issues discussed at this meeting will appear over the next 24 hours.© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed