For those outside of Northeast Ohio who haven’t heard, the Cleveland Fire Department has found itself mired in a scandal. It has exposed an environment of rule-breaking and corruption that has cost Cleveland taxpayers millions. When the mayor and safety director saw the department’s overtime and severance costs soaring $1.5 million over budget, they ordered an audit to find out why. The answers they found are shocking.
According to the November 18 report:
- One firefighter worked only 3 months out of the last 30, but was paid his entire $54,000 salary the entire time. He did so by trading shifts with others, and then not reciprocating as required. This may have allowed other firefighters to rack up overtime pay.
- Another abused the system by living in San Diego for 4-5 months out of the year.
- One took 4 months off of work, and then made up for it by working 24 hour shifts for 18 out of 21 days in August, a dangerous situation.
- Michael Milano worked 1,828 hours over 2 1/2 years but was paid for three times as many hours. Timothy Debarr was paid for 6,497 hours but worked only 2,833. Gary McNamara worked just over half the 6,681 hours for which he was paid.
- Auditors also discovered that firefighters breached city policy by destroying records of shift swaps.
- Sick time was not being subtracted from employees balances, allowing them to accumulate more than they really had to cash in at retirement.
In addition, so many firefighters called in “sick” (4 times more than a normal Thursday) on Thanksgiving this year, that 2 firehouses had to be shut down. On Saturday, the Plain Dealer ripped those responsible for the abuses.
The audit also revealed a smoke screen that obscured the bad recordkeeping. The failure of supervisors to record sick time, for example, inflated the amount of money firefighters received upon retirement for their unused sick days.
The city also will seek contractual changes to address what Jackson describes as the “abuse of a labor-friendly” collective bargaining agreement.
This morning, Mark Naymik pulled no punches either.
A recent audit and expanding investigation into Cleveland firefighters’ timesheets and pay records suggest they need to be watched. The audit shows the fire department doesn’t pay close attention to rules that allow firefighters to easily trade work shifts, take time off for funerals and call in sick. The result is a system that is being abused by at least a handful of firefighters.
The public long has trusted them, but the audit has broken this bond and smeared the image of safety workers overall.
Cleveland’s firefighters have only themselves to blame. The abuses should be insulting to the majority of the city’s 800 firefighters and to voters.
We Are Ohio made firefighters the face of their campaign to turn back reasonable reforms to government employee unions in Ohio. They portrayed firefighters as helpless, virtuous victims. We Are Ohio has to be breathing a sigh of relief that this report didn’t come out before November. In fact, since Mayor Jackson, a Democrat, opposed Issue 2, one could even question the timing of the report’s release. They had to know something crooked was going on in the department, and could have arranged to deal with the consequences after the election when it would do less political damage to the union cause.