Monday, April 28, 2014

Court Rejects Condon's Effort to Add More City Bureaucracy and Political Appointees

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 International Association of Fire Fighters

For Immediate Release                                                                                                 
April 28, 2014                    

Contact:  Don Waller                                                                                                   
(509) 991-6959

Court Rejects Condon’s Effort to Add More City Bureaucracy and Political Appointees

Judge Kathleen O'Conner rejected an effort by Mayor Condon to politicize the upper echelons of the Spokane Fire Department in a ruling announced Friday. The mayor had sought the right to make political appointments to 14 upper and mid-management positions in the fire department.  Currently, all but two of those positions are subject to the merit-based civil service rules. Judge O’Conner ruled the effort was illegal and described the mayor’s justification as “ludicrous.” Judge O’Conner made the ruling in a case filed by the Spokane Firefighter’s Union Local 29 International Association of Firefighters). The ruling came on the union’s motion of summary judgment in its civil suit against the City of Spokane.  The Court ruled that the Mayor's new civil service structure was illegal and violated RCW 41.08, which states a Fire Department may have 1 exempt (non-civil service) position and 1 assistant. IAFF Local 29 was represented by David Bricklin, a lawyer specializing in administrative law and environmental issues with offices in Spokane and Seattle.
This suit challenged an ordinance Mayor Condon proposed last year to convert fourteen positions in the Fire Department from civil service to political appointments. Civil service is a system that assures that appointments are based on merit, not political preference. The city charter and RCW 41.08 require all but the top two positions in each city department to be covered by civil service. To evade that limitation, the mayor proposed re-naming seven units within the fire department, applying the name “department” to each of them. Thus, the maintenance unit was named a “department,” the communications unit was named a “department,” and so on. With these word games, the Fire Department was comprised ofseven mini-departments and so the mayor claimed the authority to make 14 political appointments in the fire department (two in each of the seven new departments).   In her ruling, Judge O'Conner stated that the idea of creating a Fire Division with seven “Departments” in order to gain exempt positions was "ludicrous.”
Don Waller President of Spokane Firefighters Union said “The issue in Spokane is that we do not have enough equipment and firefighters to protect the public. More top heavy management will solve nothing and be more expensive. This approach has never made any sense.”

This Court’s decision re-affirms that city employees should be managed in a merit based system that prevents city jobs from being meted out to political appointees.

The history of civil service is inextricably intertwined with the fundamental ideals of American democracy. Civil Service was created to stop the corruption, political cronyism and patronage of  the past. The result of these practices was incompetent employees, high rates of employee turnover with each successive administration, and cultures of retaliation and political yes men.  The civil service system was created to promote the hiring and promotion of the most qualified applicants in a fair and transparent manner and retains the wisdom and experience of longterm workers.
This ruling upholds Spokane’s civil service system as right, and fair, and able to put qualified people into the positions that can best serve the needs of the people of Spokane.
The mayor’s proposal was not limited to the fire department. Mayor Condon did the same thing to the police department too, politicizing many its management positions.  Judge O’Conner’s ruling does not immediately affect the police department, but the reasoning is the same. The police officers would need to file their own lawsuit, unless  the city voluntarily agreed to withdraw the changes it made to civil service coverage for the police department.
The Spokane Firefighters Union also would also like to thank Council members Ben Stuckart, Amber Waldref and Jon Snyder for voting against this proposal when it came before the Council last year.
For more information also contact:
David Bricklin (206) 264-8600w; (206) 226-1745c

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