Mark Holland on Thursday night upbraided fire union officials during his last meeting as mayor of the Unified Government for a shift trading scheme that he said jeopardized public safety and let firefighters take pay for work they didn’t do.
For roughly 30 minutes, Holland described the results of a payroll analysis that he said proved what he called a corrupt system of firefighters manipulating an otherwise legal practice of shift trading in order to get paid for shifts they didn’t work and compensating for those skipped shifts with under-the-table payments.
Holland’s broadside largely followed his comments from earlier in the week about a shift trading system that he said jeopardized public safety, and drew hisses and grumbles from displeased KCK firefighters, as well as some plaudits from supports, both of which who packed the City Hall commission chamber for a special meeting of the UG Commission.
“We need to end this corrupt practice in this fire department,” Holland said. “We cannot continue to pay people who do not come to work.”
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Bob Wing, the business manager of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 64, the union that represents KCK firefighters, told reporters that “these issues will be taken up in the courthouse.”
“When all this is said and done, I have retained counsel, so has the union, so has my son,” Wing said. “These will be taken up appropriately in the proper venue.”
Wing was directly implicated in the shift trading analysis, which found that he was paid nearly $65,000 in 2017 despite not working any shifts as a KCK fire department captain. The labor agreement between the UG and the fire union limits firefighters to 24 traded shifts a year, but allows for exceptions to that limit for union work.
Wing’s son, Chris Wing, wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday evening a message that Holland would report to local and state authorities as a threat to the mayor’s safety. Chris Wing, a KCK firefighter, wrote “You might need security detail when you start witch hunts like so…” in a Facebook message that accompanied a recorded call that Holland sent out imploring residents to attend Thursday’s special meeting.
“I can’t speak to my son’s issues because it’s being investigated,” Bob Wing said.
It was an unofficial meeting because not enough commissioners showed up to establish a quorum. That means no minutes of the meeting were recorded and the proceedings were not broadcast for UG residents to watch at home.
Holland said that Commissioner Jane Philbrook called in sick, but that the rest of the commissioners had boycotted the meeting.
“Their choice not to come made it so the public could not see it,” Holland said.
Gayle Townsend, a UG Commissioner who was present at the meeting, said she would not presume why other commissioners did not show up. Jim Walters, Harold Johnson and Melissa Bynum were the other commissioners who were present. Hal Walker, Angela Markley, Ann Brandau-Murguia, Mike Kane and Brian McKiernan did not attend.
Doug Bach, the county administrator who serves as the UG’s top non-elected official, said on Thursday that he will be further examining the fire department’s payroll data and will report back to the UG Commission in a few months.
Holland faced a phalanx of firefighters, many with arms crossed and and who teased him for losing last November’s election, as he made his way past them in the lobby of City Hall and up the elevator following Thursday’s meeting.
“Be clear: Most of our firefighters are perfectly good people,” Holland said after the meeting. “There’s a group of corrupt people who are bullies, who are very committed to being paid not to work and very committed to silencing people who are willing to challenge them.”
Holland will relinquish the office of UG mayor on Monday when his challenger during last year’s election, David Alvey, will be sworn in. Alvey defeated Holland after a contentious campaign.
Holland, who has never been a favorite of the fire department workers during his time as a UG Commissioner and during his one term as mayor, clashed with fire union personnel during the late stretches of last year’s election. As mayor, Holland scrutinized the budgets and practices of the KCK Fire Department, a political calculation that is widely seen as a contributing factor to his electoral defeat. The IAFF Local No. 64 is a formidable voting bloc and amounts to a political force in KCK.
During Holland’s term as mayor, the UG hired an outside company to study the fire department, which made several recommendations that the fire department did not welcome, such as redistributing the locations of fire stations to meet shifts in population in Wyandotte County.
In 2016, an audit by the UG Legislative Auditor raised similar concerns as those voiced this week by Holland about the KCK Fire Department’s use of the practice of shift trading.
The UG and the fire union could not reach a labor agreement until earlier this year. The current agreement, which runs through 2018, retained language about limiting shift trading in most circumstances to 24 trades a year. But the UG started 2017 by tracking traded shifts electronically, resulting in Holland’s year-end report.
Holland said firefighters receive more paid time off than other UG employees — firefighters start with nine weeks of paid time off, compared to six weeks for KCK police officers — and can end up with five months or more of paid time off through shift trading.
In all, Holland said KCK firefighters were paid $920,000 in 2017 for shifts they never worked.
Holland said there were several instances of firefighters who traded off numerous shifts, but never or rarely reciprocated with other employees. Holland said some employees were paid under the table for taking on additional shifts; he pointed to one firefighter who he said received an estimated $33,000 of additional under-the-table pay.
“The (labor) contract says trade, but the practice is clearly selling time,” Holland said.
Firefighters have rejected Holland’s conclusions, saying that shift trading is necessary in a profession where people work 24 hour shifts, and that trading shifts doesn’t cost the UG anything.
Carol Marinovich, former UG mayor, said she considers herself a friend of firefighters but also shared Holland’s concerns.
“Based on the report I saw, I share some of the mayor’s concerns, number one with safety,” Marinovich said. “I don’t believe someone should be able to sell or trade to the extreme that they don’t work a shift.”