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Gary commission gets an earful from firefighters, chief

Gary Fire Chief TeresEverett City Hall Gary Ind. Wednesday July 18 2012.  |  Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett at City Hall in Gary, Ind. Wednesday July 18, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 21, 2013 2:18PM



GARY — The Gary Fire Civil Service Commission met for almost three hours Thursday morning with little official business conducted.

What the board did accomplish, however, was to see first-hand the level of discord between Fire Chief Teresa Everett and the rank and file.

The board has at least 16 verified complaints submitted by firefighters against Everett. None were heard Thursday, but several officers were on the agenda to speak, presenting issues including delayed promotions, aborted sick pay and confusion over sick leave.

Everett presented her own verified complaints — four, seeking termination — against firefighters who have not obtained emergency medical technician certification. Corporation Counsel Niquelle Allen, one of three lawyers sitting next to the chief, asked to have the hearings conducted ahead of others. Chairman Randall Williams, however, said they would be addressed in order. Everett said the four must obtain certification as part of a federal grant, but commission attorney Rinzer Williams said he would read the grant before making any recommendations.

The bulk of the meeting focused on conflicting views of the department’s 90-day sick leave for firefighters. Firefighter Charles Clark said he was surprised, after suffering a major heart attack, that his paychecks and health insurance were discontinued when he believed he still had one more month of benefits.

Commissioner Juana McLaurin read from the commission rules that the sick leave is 90 days for each major illness or major injury, but Allen said the firefighters’ contract limits leave to one 90-day period per year.

“It’s federal law,” she said, arguing that contract language supersedes commission rules, which are part of city ordinances. Rinzer Williams disagreed, saying the ordinance takes precedence if it conflicts with a contract. Allen countered that the commission has no authority over sick pay.

The city contract with Firefighters Local 359 expired at least six years ago.

Lt. Frank Edmond reminded the board, and the chief, that the promotional testing process includes questions on empathy. He urged the board and city to show empathy for Clark.

“Charles Clark’s son was brutally murdered. Then he died twice at the funeral, he coded twice. Let the man get well and come back to work. He does his job, he is not a problem at work. He should not be missing a check,” Edmond said.

After listening to the complaints, McLaurin, a 33-year employee of the fire department, asked, “How can the city survive with this kind of internal cancer? All decisions should be made for the betterment of the city. Come to an agreement that’s humane.”

Allen responded that she “doesn’t see it as us against them. We need to limit liability.”



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