By Tyler Schneider
With dozens and dozens of firefighters sitting in during the public comment portion of the Dec. 13 regular Grandview Board of Aldermen meeting, Local 42 President Dan Heizman made his case to the people.
“We’re here to talk about what we consider to be an issue of public safety emergency. Over the last two years, we’ve lost nearly half of the fire department in turnover. That includes up to 50 firefighter medics, leaving us very short staffed on the medic side of this thing,” Heizman said.
The day before, at a South Kansas City Alliance meeting, Matt Dowd spoke on the fact that a paramedic earns $14.91 and EMT takes home $14 per hour at the department.
“We’ve also had a lot of deferred maintenance as far as fire trucks, station improvements, which our men and women deal with. We’re used to running with bare bones stuff, we’ll put stuff together, we’ll adapt and overcome,” Heizman said. “But when we don’t have people that can actually get on the fire trucks and ambulances go out and serve citizens—that’s when we declare an emergency.”
Heizman closed his speaking time by addressing the board and city officials more directly.
“We’ve tried to go through the proper channels, through negotiations, working through the fire chief’s office, city administrator, and the HR department. And we’re just concerned that maybe those mediations are not getting down to the board level,” Heizman said. “If you don’t have a professional fire service, those ISO ratings are gonna go back down, that’s gonna affect businesses and is going to impact citizens. We want to work collaboratively with you to find solutions to this, but if we don’t do something quickly, we’re not going to have a fire department.”
Public comment closed officially at 7:22 p.m. Afterwards, the board moved on to the five consent items on the night—a list which included what was scheduled as a closed session of the board and would in part include deliberation on the contract fire department’s new ladder truck, which was approved by voters last April.
Before heading into that closed session, Dan Hartman, Alderman for Ward II, asked Mayor Leonard Jones if the closed session absolutely had to be closed.
“I feel more comfortable with an open session, actually. That’s what I would recommend, I’m going to be open to the public whenever possible. Can this item or items be discussed in an open meeting?,” Hartman said.
Jones referred to City Attorney Joe Gall.
“Well as for your question, the Sunshine Law generally allows certain things to be discussed in closed session. But it doesn’t have to be.”
Ward II Alderman and former state representative Joe Runions spoke up.
“I’m opposed to this closed session. We need public input, we don’t need the six of us and the mayor and board a mirror and listen to the propaganda that’s gonna come on. We need to have the input from the citizens and officers and firefighters on the board to people that are affected by this,” Runions said.
“I live in Grandview. A lot of people here live in Grandview. We’ve got a lot of decisions being made for us by people who don’t even live in Grandview,” Runions added.
Ward I Alderwoman Debbie Bibbs, Ward 1 Alderman Damon Randolph, Hartman and Runions all voted ‘nay,’ meaning the board would not hold a closed session that evening. Public discussion continued for a few minutes before the meeting was adjourned officially after about 40 minutes in session.
Runions brought up the voter approval of Question 3 on the April 5 ballot earlier this year. The vote, which passed with 88.5 percent approval, authorized 2.6 million in bonds to go towards replacing the Grandview Fire Department’s only ladder truck, which the city says is outdated by 20 years.
“We have nothing to show for it,” Runions said. “Nothing’s been done.”
Runions asked city administrator Cemal Umut Gungor if any contracts related to the bond are close to being finalized.
Gungor replied that the city “built these fire trucks on custom order,” suggesting that the timeline may just be longer than Runions would like.
“We’re hearing from the firefighters all the time, they want to know what’s going on” Runions said, “and we’re only getting half answers.”