Charter Review Committee
White Paper on Separate Policy and Fire Departments
Date: January 2005
Sub Committee Member(s): Pam Marsh
Section 1A, Article XIII of the Ashland City Charter requires that the city "shall maintain a fire department which is separate and distinct from the City police department" and prohibits the employees of one department from performing job functions of employees in the other department.
This white paper analyzes two alternatives: 1) retaining the language as written in a new model charter; and, 2) deleting the clause from the new charter.
Background: Section 1A was added to the charter on January 4, 1986, as a result of a campaign mounted by members of the firefighters union. The union action was generated by a tentative city proposal to train ten new members of the police department to assist on fires; the police department endorsed the concept, but the firefighters viewed it as an attack on the department's autonomy.
According to Tom Sponsler, cities across the state were discussing the creation of merged public safety departments at about that time. In the intervening years only a handful of cities actually joined police and fire; the charter review consultant recommends deleting the clause.
Pros and Cons:
From a policy perspective, the prohibition against reorganization/merger seems inappropriately placed in the charter, binding the ability of staff and council to manage and organize city services as current circumstances warrant.
While limited in number, a few cities have demonstrated that reorganization/merger can work. The City of Grants Pass undertook a partial consolidation of police and fire in 1983. According to local reports, the resulting Public Safety Department receives high marks for public satisfaction and saves the city money at the same time.
However, it is likely that removing this clause from our charter could generate a passionate response from fire personnel. If we want to proceed with this option, we will need to solicit support from both unions, which could be an onerous proposition.
Budget Implications: None immediate. Possibly some savings in the future if the council decided to reorganize job assignments and/or departments
Summary: In short, in evaluating this issue the Charter Commission must weigh the value of an appropriate policy clean-up against the potential political landmine it represents.
Resources consulted: Cathy Shaw, Gino Grimaldi, Roy Bashaw, Keith Woodley, Mike Franell, Brian Almquist, and the Grants Pass web site.