MORGANTOWN, W.Va – The unions representing police officers and firefighters in Morgantown believed a vote of “No Confidence’ in the city’s leadership was the only option left in their ongoing dispute over personnel policy changes.
On Monday, the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87 and International Association of Firefighters Local 313 issued the joint vote of “no confidence,” naming City Manager Kim Haws, Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli, Human Resources Director Jim Bihun and all seven members of city council.
“This is the nuclear option. We’ve exhausted every other option that’s been at our disposal and we feel this is the next thing we have to do,” said FOP President Brandon Viola during an interview on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”
“The city administration is not listening to what we have to say. We’re not getting anything done and this was the next logical step to take.”
The issue has been simmering for months and finally boiled over this week with Monday’s vote. IAFF President Mitchell Beall first addressed the city council in May during a public meeting, warning that proposed personnel changes would disproportionally affect firefighters, effectively reducing overtime and firefighters’ yearly pay.
“We’ve tried to reach out to city administration. We’ve worked through our chief. We’ve worked with city council. We’ve met with state elected officials to try to get this under control. When no one is willing to sit in a room and understand our perspectives, we have no choice but to go down this road,” Beall stated.
During their regular meeting Tuesday night, members of city council responded to the “no confidence” vote, some obviously frustrated with the situation.
“Time and time again, I’ve been told these are not functions of council. These are personnel matters that are functions of the city manager’s office,” said Deputy Mayor Danielle Trumble.
“Despite that, I’ve continued to push forward in asking for answers and changes and any number of responses that I feel would be appropriate, but we’re just kicking the can down the road.”
During a council meeting on July 5, Trumble asked for future work sessions with all parties involved to hash out the issues but that request has not come to fruition.
Meanwhile, Councilman Bill Kawecki lamented that the dispute has become a matter of public debate.
“In terms of my disappointment with of the ongoing publicity we’re hearing in an attempt to negotiate via the media, what we have are a bunch of people who are complaining and seem to be serving their own political or personal agenda and are not offering a solution to any of the problems.” Kawecki stated.
“They’re simply wanting to tear everything apart and not looking at the accomplishments of this council and the quality that we’ve managed to obtain over these past years.
Kawecki continued that city council does respect its police officers, fire fighters and all employees and will continue to, regardless of what he described as “frivolous accusations.”
Beall and Viola are hopeful that all sides can come together to find an agreeable solution before there is any impact on public safety.
“We have to have experienced police officers and firefighters to provide public safety for the citizens of Morgantown. These policy changes are affecting that. We’re not being able to retain and recruit officers the way we should be,” Viola said.