Fire Dept. again at center of council debate

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — Back-to-back Tuesday meetings of the city council resulted in a familiar back-and-forth between elected officials with fire service lying in between.

Following a second, special meeting Tuesday, two of the city’s former three stations remain closed, and disagreements between elected officials seem likely to again be taken up in court.

The cash-strapped city has debated methods for restoring fire department staffing and reopening its north and south stations since the two were shuttered in October 2011.

Last month’s council sessions were similar to a previous attempt to restore positions to the department, when elected officials took Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand to court to force city acceptance of a federal staffing grant, which the council had approved by resolution and vetoed by Lamarand.

The first resolution by city council during its May 21 meeting came after the panel rejected a proposal by Lamarand for a lease agreement with HealthLink, which would have staffed and shared the two stations with the fire department.

The agreement would have provided more than 70 percent of the costs to keep the stations operational.

Councilwomen Jill Brandana and Cheryl Burke were the minority support for a motion to approve the contract with HealthLink that was defeated 5-2.

Instead, council proposed a resolution — written by Councilmen John Delo — demanding that Lamarand reopen the two dormant stations and begin taking steps to have the city provide EMS ser vice.

Only five council members voted — Brandana and Suzanne Weycker had left before the vote, Brandana in protest — and the resolution failed 4-1 with Burke the lone support 4-1 vote for the resolution.
Whether the resolution held any legal authority was doubtful. Brandana’s protest — and Lamarand likewise left the meeting — came after City Attorney John Martin said that the charter provides the mayor’s office with the final authority.

Burke said the situation is similar to the council’s
previous debate over authority.

“The charter clearly states that the mayor is in charge of the buildings, the assignment of duties,” Burke said, “and not the council.”

As expected, Lamarand vetoed the May 21 resolution, and in turn during a special meeting on May 28, council approved a draft resolution to override Lamarand’s veto. Where the matter will next be debated is uncertain, although Burke said that a court order will likely be sought.

The city will soon need to vote on a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year that trims 20 percent of what had once been estimated as a $5 million deficit undera five-year debt-elimination plan.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

Tags: