City takes firefighter union’s presentation off agenda

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2021

SALISBURY — The Salisbury Professional Firefighters Union was on the agenda for the City Council’s Tuesday meeting, but the group’s presentation about pay was voted off by the council.

Councilman Brian Miller made the motion to remove the presentation from the agenda. Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins immediately responded to say she wanted discussion about why the item would be removed. She appeared to be alone in wanting the item to stay on the agenda. The vote count was 4-1 to remove it, with Heggins as the lone “No.”

The firefighters union is lobbying city officials for immediate increases for firefighters as a pay study for longer-term increases occurs. But Miller said said Tuesday’s agenda item wasn’t following proper protocol.

“There is a protocol that exists within our departments to go through chain of command,” Miller said. “When folks bring their grievances to the council directly, I think it violates the processes and procedures that are already in place.”

Miller said the council has already agreed to a pay increase for firefighters and commissioned a salary study to explore more increases.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to make any decisions before then,” Miller said. “I also don’t think there’s ever been a time when the folks in our fire department leadership have come to us with a need to care for the needs of our firefighters that we haven’t said, ‘Yes.'”

Miller said fire department and city administrators should receive the union’s presentation and make a recommendation to the council.

Heggins pushed to keep the item on the agenda, questioning what process exists to bring those concerns to the board. She said firefighters already brought their concerns to the attention of fire department and city administration.

“It doesn’t seem to balance out in my mind that annually, annually we respect and honor the lives of Victor Isler and Justin Monroe, who died in the line of duty for our citizens and for the city, but then we as a council can’t take time to listen to our firefighters about their working conditions,” Heggins said.

Miller said the issue will not go away only because it was taken off the agenda, but he would like it to go through the proper channels.

Councilman David Post said the council could open a “Pandora’s Box” of problems if “a disgruntled employee, or two or three, in any department, comes through a City Council person, any City Council person, and says ‘I have a grievance that I want to air, and I want to get on a city council agenda.'”

Heggins replied  hearing the presentation would be listening to the needs of employees.

The issue came up again toward the end of the meeting. Heggins asked for the city leadership to provide more information on the issue, including if concerns were brought to the fire chief and the city manager, overtime hours per week, how many firefighters have left since Aug. 3 and how many have submitted applications elsewhere.

During Mayor Karen Alexander’s announcements she made a point of calling out comments she claimed Heggins made during the pre-council meeting, saying Heggins questioned if Alexander is biased on the issue because of her position as president of the N.C. League of Municipalities.

Alexander disputed that idea the League of Municipalities does not support firefighters, citing legislative examples. Heggins said Alexander took an internal conversation and made it public.

Alexander and Heggins also are competing against each another in the city’s first mayoral election.

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About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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