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Residents hurt by city's position on firefighter pay

I was impressed by the Oct. 26 editorial, City must rein in fire department, right up to the fourth paragraph that poses the question of how difficult it must be for us to do our jobs in light of a "war on our employer, the City of Clearwater and, by extension, its citizens who pay the bills."

Let me tell you this: When the tones go off in the station, we all give 100 percent to those in Clearwater who pay taxes as well as those who don't. I would never be able to live with myself if I didn't do everything I was trained to do to assist a resident in need. I know of no one in the Clearwater Fire Department who feels differently. This is why we are here and what we are all about.

The residents of Clearwater and Pinellas County have nothing to fear when they call 911. We are there 24/7. For you to even suggest that our level of service is affected by the failed contract talks is ludicrous.

That is not to say that if we are shafted by the city's current proposal, the quality of personnel who may be hired in the future will meet the standards of excellence Clearwater Fire & Rescue was once known for.

The police have identified a staffing and retention problem in their department. I would assume that you are educated enough to do the math in this matter. If your employer came to you and offered you a $28 biweekly wage increase (2 percent), then turned around and informed you that your health insurance was now going to cost you $23 biweekly (for individual coverage, but much higher for dependent coverage), considering that the remaining money would only put about 3 gallons of gas in your car, would you be happy? I think not!

Why, then, would anyone want to stay at this department or even apply here when they can go a little farther north to make a better starting salary and have their family insurance coverage paid 100 percent? That is a staffing and retention problem.

I attended the contract negotiations for the first time the morning before the infamous "effigy" of City Manager Bill Horne, and what I heard turned my stomach. When asked why the police got the raise they got, the city's negotiator stated that the Police Department has had a hiring and retention problem. When it was pointed out that the city's (at that time) proposed contract to us would have the same effect, the negotiator's comment was something along the lines of, we'll deal with that when the time comes.

What a way to run a city! Let's wait until we have a problem, then try to fix it instead of looking ahead to prevent the problem in the first place. If that isn't "by extension" hurting the "citizens who pay the bills," then I don't know what is.

Mike Faulkner, Clearwater

Tell us why fire mediation failed

Re: Mediation fails in firefighters' talks, story, Oct. 24.

Can anyone at the Times explain why only five of 29 paragraphs in this story refer to the failed mediation? Why are residents not being told exactly what issues created the impasse (between the city of Clearwater and the fire union) and why they were not overcome? Once again, your reporter has failed to report pertinent details.

The focus of the article should have been that a federal mediator is involved in negotiations two times in one year in a city the size of Clearwater. Instead, your reporter displays her inability to report what is significant and newsworthy by shifting the focus to firefighters' criticism of city "leaders." Why is she not using the vast majority of the article to discuss how many times in Clearwater history (and in other Florida cities) a federal mediator has been required in such negotiations and the circumstances that dictate involvement? Is the city incurring a cost because the mediator is here?

If the issue truly is that city "leaders" cannot or will not come to terms with firefighters because they are personally offended by public or private criticism, residents owe your reporter a debt of gratitude because she has revealed the real issue. If so, Clearwater has a very significant problem. City "leaders" need to realize criticism comes with being a public official, but criticism is no excuse for failing to rise above the fray and act to ensure our public safety. Frankly, I agree that firefighters' frustrations are not justification for using tasteless profanity to exclaim their dissatisfaction in these negotiations, but the issue in this article shouldn't have been about personal attacks and profanity.

Why did you not disclose the name of the person who said city officials will be discussing with the city attorney whether they have grounds to take action against the creators and distributors of the "Draconian Times?" Why did you not state the specific charge they will be looking into? It seems this was used to advance an environment of intimidation against firefighters' free speech.

Do we still have a mayor, or is City Manager Bill Horne functioning in this capacity? Horne should be reporting to Mayor Brian Aungst. I voted twice to elect Aungst as mayor, but your reporting leads me to believe he has no opinion on this matter. You are not holding him accountable for his (and Horne's) action or inaction in this matter, and his opinion is significant and important. Since city commissioners are the officials who appointed Horne, why have we not heard their views in this matter?

The Times simply is not giving us responsible reporting. I wonder if Bob Woodward or Seymour Hersh would have succeeded in revealing the truth if they had applied the same effort in their investigating and reporting that your reporter has in these failed negotiations?

Rick Wagoner, Clearwater

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