Fire Commissioner to testify at council hearing on firefighter demotions

In preparation for Wednesday’s Council Committee on Labor and Civil Service hearing, committee chair Councilman Jim Kenney issued a subpoena Tuesday for City Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers to testify on the temporary promotions of 14 firefighters.

Kenney issued the subpoena after administration officials told him they were sending the city’s public safety director and human resources commissioner but not Ayers.

“The administration delegated the authority to demote,” the firefighters to Ayers, Kenney said. “I want to hear it from him.”

The demotions he is referring to is the seemingly never-ending battle between the city and the fire union on the issue of filling 14 vacancies earlier this year.

The issue began when the city decided not to fill 14 lieutenant and captain vacancies, despite having budgeted the money for it, because it was waiting for the firefighters' promotion list to expire in May and make promotions using a new list.

The union sued and in May, Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker ruled in favor of the firefighters and ordered the city to grant the promotions, which it did. That ruling was overturned in Commonwealth Court in September and the city announced it would return the promoted firefighters to their previous titles. A few days later, the union filed another suit and gained an emergency motion temporarily preventing the Fire Department from moving forward with the demotions.

But after reviewing legal arguments from both sides, Tucker dismissed the latest suit and terminated the stay order.

“Commonwealth Court ruled on this matter,” said city spokesman Mark McDonald. “These were individuals who were told their promotions were... indefinite.”

McDonald said Ayers would be at Wednesday’s hearing but only for the first 30 minutes. Ayers has “previously scheduled activities,” that can’t keep him at council past 10:30 a.m.

The demoted firefighters are also expected to testify during Wednesday’s hearing.

-- Claudia Vargas (@InqCVargas)

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