The issue: The Hannibal Fire Department, the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Hannibal Free Public Library, the Hannibal city court and the Hannibal Board of Public Works are not under the supervisory umbrella of the Hannibal city manager.
Our view: A charter change is needed to put all city departments under the supervision of a manager trained in city administration.
An intra-department e-mail from a fire department supervisor to Hannibal’s firefighters last week (Hannibal Courier-Post, March 27, 2010) offers further evidence that the city charter as it stands today is broken.
The fact is that city firefighters have negotiated privileges not afforded to other city employees, such as the freedom to use a city-provided e-mail account to rally support for a political cause.
This is yet another indicator that the current fire board-administered system of operation has failed the citizens who pay the bills. So we ask this question: While the firefighters are rallying support from council members appointed to the fire board for issues that are beneficial to them, who is watching out for OUR tax dollars?
We can now assume that when Hannibal citizens voted for a city manager form of government in 1996, the fire department was not placed under the umbrella of the city manager because the fire union members didn’t want that. Fast forward to November 2009, and our professional city manager, who is paid nearly $85,000 annually via our tax dollars, wasn’t even consulted when the two active fire board members, Jason Janes and Barry Lauderman, took action and placed Fire Chief Tim Carter on extended paid leave back in November 2009.
Our dollars are paying the legal fees to bring this issue to a just resolution. Our tax dollars are paying the suspended fire chief until the situation is resolved. Our tax dollars are paying “step-up” raises to a line of firefighters who have received temporary promotions while the legal challenges unfold in the courts. Our tax dollars will contribute to a lifetime pension for the 39-year-old fire chief should he win his request for reinstatement. And that doesn’t even take into consideration any potential liability against the city that the courts could issue in the future.
In our view, all of these wasted dollars could have been saved if the fire board had utilized the professional guidance of the manager we pay to oversee our tax dollars.
The next item on the city council’s agenda must be the placement of a charter change issue on the ballot. Our city is a multi-million dollar business, and must be operated as such; there is no room for error here. We already have a pending lawsuit under way regarding a personnel issue in the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau. The tide seems to be moving in the same direction regarding the fire chief. These two departments, plus the library, the Board of Public Works and the city court, need professional management.
Our current city manager has a master’s degree in city administration, which included coursework in human resource management, public policy analysis, business law, budgeting and finance, organizational dynamics and leadership. The council selected him from a pool of applicants and deemed him to be the most qualified to manage our city.
So let’s make the changes that will allow him to do his job: Watching out for the best interests of the citizens of Hannibal.