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Sutherland still planning for regional fire group despite charter proposal’s ballot defeat

By Jeff Gallatin

BAY VILLAGE

Mayor Debbie Sutherland said her city will continue to pursue ways of taking part in a regional fire district or group even after voters resoundingly defeated two proposed charter amendments designed to help that process.

“We’ll just find a different way to do that,” she said, referring to joining the regional fire district or authority on which Bay Village, Fairview Park,  Rocky River and Westlake are currently working.

Voters rejected Issues 3, 4 and 5, proposed charter amendments Sutherland and officials in her administration said would have made it easier for the city to take part in any regional government, or in the cases of 4 and 5, join the regional fire organization. Issue 3, which voters failed by about 61 to 39 percent, would have allowed the city to blend its finance and legal departments into a regional organization or merge their functions with other cities if they decided to join Bay.

Issue 4, which would have taken the fire and police chiefs out of the municipal civil service commission and made them unclassified positions, failed by about 71 percent to 29 percent. Issue 5, which went down by about 58 to 42 percent,  would have allowed the city to put police and fire and other workers out of a municipal civil service and into a regional civil service organization.

Issue 6, the other proposed charter amendment, which would have made it easier for City Council members to remove themselves without being dismissed from their job from discussions or voting on situations that presented a conflict of  interest, was defeated by about 58 to 42 percent.

During the work on the proposed charter amendments by the Charter Review Commission as well as during the election campaign, Issues 3, 4 and 5 were portrayed by Sutherland’s administration and supporters as good-government issues. They were lauded as ways of showing better financial management and making it easier for Bay Village to join any regional or multicommunity governmental body.

However, opponents, led by the Bay Village fire and police unions, strongly opposed Issues 4 and 5, with the safety forces mailing campaign literature and going door to door in the city expressing their opposition to voters. The unions said taking the fire and police chiefs out of the municipal civil service system would expose them to potential political pressure and eliminate current safeguards which made their  jobs easier to do without political pressures. The fire union has also opposed efforts to join the regional fire authority, saying it would take services away from Bay residents by making them responsible for responding to more emergencies in other communities.

Brandon Dimacchia, head of the Bay Village fire department union, said voters made the right choice.

“Once again, the mayor has tried to pull one over on the citizens,” he said. “She underestimated them. The citizens were paying attention. They educated themselves, and it showed in the ballot box.”

Sutherland said the unions’ campaign was effective.

“They were very active and did a good job of muddying the issues,” she said. “We have had them at the table at the discussions about the regional fire authority. Perhaps they won’t be there in the future.”

Sutherland reiterated her administration will continue to work on the regional fire authority.

“There are other steps that can be taken; we’ll work on finding the right ones,” she said.

 

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