This story has been updated to include comments from Covington City Manager Larry Klein and City Commissioners Chuck Eilerman and Steve Frank.
The union representing members of the Covington Fire Department issued a statement Monday urging the City to stop "relying on Bob Due's untrustworthy financial reporting" and to restore Pumper One to service.
Due is the former finance director in Covington and is currently sitting in the Kenton County Detention Center on charges related to the allegations that he stole nearly $800,000 over the course of twelve years in his position. State Auditor Adam Edelen was in Covington last Thursday to release the findings of his office's examination of the city's finance department.
Due was a prominent voice in recent years as the City negotiated new contracts with Local 38 of the International Association of Professional Firefighters which eventually conceded to changes in their health care plans, though a legal battle continues over the number of firefighters that should be on schedule on any given day. The city reduced that number and Local 38 is challenging the move in court. Both sides appeared before a judge on Friday for procedural purposes.
The department's busiest piece of equipment, Pumper One, housed at the headquarters on Robbins Street was also taken out of service, or browned out, as a cost-saving measure.
“How can we continue to rely on anything Bob Due reported on over the past 10 years” asked Covington Professional Firefighters Local 38 President Jimmy Adams in a news release. “It’s time to put Pumper One back in service for the safety of citizens and firefighters.”
Pumper One has been officially out of service since September 2011.
“Bob Due dismissed out of hand several cost-saving proposals Local 38 put forth that, if heeded, may have stopped the city from terminating our staffing contract”, Adams said. The city justified its changing of the staffing agreement by calling it an emergency circumstance, a clause that the city's legal team cited as allowing it to reduce what is known as "minimum manning" without approval from the union.
The Union cited Due’s multiple budget reports, budget Road Shows conducted in 2011, and what it calls "bargaining table misrepresentations" that city leaders relied on to make the decision to reduce staffing.
“We’re not saying anyone was complicit with Bob Due’s numbers, we simply ask that the city reinstate the staffing agreement now that it’s clear the financial picture painted by Bob Due was totally untrustworthy,” Adams said.
City Manager Larry Klein refutes that portrait of events. Klein provided The River City News with a January 31, 2014 report from Clark, Schaefer, Hackett, the firm conducting the city's annual audit for fiscal year 2012-13. That report indicates that all financial statements fairly present the financial position of the City.
Covington City Commissioner Churck Eilerman weighed in at The River City News Facebook page. "We no longer rely on Bob's "untrustworthy financial reporting", which extends back thirteen years ($61,000/year average)," Eilerman wrote. "We may or may not recover the bulk of it. In any event, it was a small percentage of our overall budget and neither its annual loss nor one time recovery provide the resources to restore Pumper One. We absolutely share your concern for the safety of our citizens, but Due's misadventures have minimal impact on our available resources."
Commissioner Steve Frank also responded with a firm "no" as to the restoration of Pumper One. "Pumper One would take over $1.3 million per year," Frank wrote. "Full-time employees times over $100,000 per year in salary and benefits."
"It is unfortunate that Local 38 wants to discuss ongoing litigation outside the courtroom," Klein told The River City News. "Many city employees lost their jobs two years ago. Firefighters lost about $600,000 in annual overtime. No Police or Fire lost their jobs."
"During negotiations two years ago Local 38 submitted the City’s audits and budget information to their own international for analysis. They did not give us a copy of that analysis from their international but I had the distinct impression that the international confirmed the City’s numbers," Klein said.
According to Local 38’s estimates, the city has already saved nearly $1 million dollars as a result of keeping Pumper One out of service and maintaining less than budgeted amounts of staffing. That’s on top of nearly $5 million dollars annual savings from health care concessions from city employees, the news release said.
Adams said he believes the current working atmosphere is much improved between the union and the City. However, he said that the union has to draw a line when it comes to what it views as a compromise of citizens' safety.
The union's news release said that as the City aims to put in place new safeguards on city finances, Local 38 hopes that the shared sacrifices made by its members won't be forgotten.
“We’ve agreed to pay a lot more of our own health care. We’ve gotten past promotional issues. Local 38 is working with city management to fix pay issues related to recently discovered IRS requirements. We continue to seek ways to help the fire chief run the fire department more efficiently with fewer dollars. But a major piece of the safety puzzle has been missing for two and half years. We need Pumper One in service,” Adams said.