Hobart board upholds firefighter’s suspension
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent January 16, 2013 9:22PM
Updated: February 19, 2013 2:05PM
HOBART — The Board of Public Works and Safety on Wednesday upheld the five-day unpaid suspension imposed on Fire Lt. Mark Slonaker by the fire commission last month, but learned the commission had no authority to put Slonaker on probation or to make him ineligible for promotion during that probation.
“He is free to be promoted,” city attorney Anthony DeBonis said.
DeBonis said under the civil service law, the commission has no right to put a firefighter on probationary status.
The commission made Slonaker a probationary lieutenant for one year, after finding him guilty of three of five charges leveled by Fire Chief Brian Taylor. Taylor accused Slonaker of making disparaging remarks about the fire department and some of the firefighters.
Taylor had asked that Slonaker be demoted.
DeBonis said Slonaker had not yet served his suspension, pending action by the Board of Works.
In an ordinance committee meeting of the City Council, which followed the Board of Works meeting, DeBonis said the fire department is suffering from what he called “rank creep,” where there are too many people on the force with titles, costing the department a lot of money.
“There are lots of chiefs and not enough Indians,” DeBonis said.
He explained that when a firefighter retires, someone on the force must be promoted. However, the department can’t hire someone to replace the retiring person due to financial constraints.
“We don’t want to lose firefighters. We need to make this affordable,” he said.
DeBonis suggested the committee consider an ordinance determining ranks and how many people on the force should hold each rank, provided it doesn’t violate the civil service law. He said the end result would be the same number of firefighters on the force, just fewer with a rank.
Fire Chief Brian Taylor said the department regularly overspends on its rank line item.
The council committee said it will discuss the rank issue at its next meeting, Feb. 6.