Kansas City fire union president Mike Cambiano recently blasted Mayor Sly James’ leadership by saying, “Time and resources are being focused on other things than basic essential services, and that’s troubling to us.”
On Aug. 5, voters renewed a sales tax for 20 years to fund the Fire Department. That’s $360 million or so to provide the basic public safety service of firefighting over the next two decades
The original quarter-cent tax, approved in 2001, didn’t even expire until late 2016. So James and the City Council, cowed by the fire union, went ahead and placed the tax extension on a 2014 ballot.
James had a perfect chance to tell Cambiano and the union to wait. He didn’t.
Last year, James and the council passed fiscally responsible pension reforms to help ensure ample retirement benefits to firefighters.
Notably, the fire pension plan trailed the three other city plans in coming before the council. Cambiano and the union fought every step of the way for better deals for firefighters. Nothing necessarily wrong with that — except it’s disingenuous to say that James is ignoring “basic essential services” when the steps he and the council took will help firefighters in the long run.
James isn’t a total union buddy, partly because he attacked its bloated staff a few years ago. That was a move to finally slim the staff by a little bit.
Earlier this year, James also backed City Manager Troy Schulte’s plan to close one station and remove one pumper from another, to save money.
Cambiano and the union unsuccessfully fought that move, trying to spread scare stories about how this would lead to all kinds of problems in emergency services in the city.
Cambiano’s latest criticism isn’t well-founded. As I noted in a column last week, James actually has had success in getting Kansas City voters to approve a number of measures aimed at improving basic services.
And that includes the Kansas City Fire Department, whether Cambiano wants to acknowledge it or not.