Sunday, October 29, 2006

Merger Talks Are Targeted By Fire Department Officials

It didn't take long for the Memphis Fire Department to challenge the notion that it should manage the Shelby County Fire Department. As we mentioned in Friday's post, fire officials have proven adept at blowing up any such talk in the past, and a day later, in Saturday's Commercial Appeal, they already seemed intent to do the same with the new discussions.

As they have before, fire officials raise a red herring - that the county fire protection must be upgraded to the same level as Memphis. (It's an approach that's guaranteed to drive up costs to a level so unacceptable that the discussions are abandoned.) It's a specious argument. Unlike the previous times when it has worked to derail potential agreements, this time around, there are financial urgencies in both city and county governments that drive the talks.

Contrary to suggestions, there are benefits to city government in this arrangement, but it's been so long that some City Council members have recognized, much less capitalized, on opportunities to show concern beyond their narrow political interests, they may join fire administrators in throwing cold water on the potential agreement.

It seems that for some, a prevailing strategy by some Council members is to use the people living in the unincorporated area as whipping boys in their political rhetoric, no matter that these same people are future Memphians and this is a chance for their future home town to demonstrate some concern for them. Perhaps, it is this rhetoric and the obvious disdain for the people in these annexation reserve areas that contribute to the vitriol that is held for city government by its residents in the first place.

However, that said, now as in the past, the greatest landmine will not be elected officials, but staff. After all, they prepare the "facts" and create the reality in which the political decisions will be made. It will require Memphis Chief Financial Officer Robert Lipscomb's considerable vigilance to make sure they don't "cook the books" this time around or sabotage the discussions before they've even had a good chance to begin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a previous chief of the SCFD, I would agree on most of your premise. However, Memphis and Shelby County Fire Department officials may not be quite the root of inability to work out a solution. The talks that I was personally involved in were sabatoged by city and county finance departments. Very unrealistic figures were discussed. And whatever you do, don't forget the role that the fire union plays in this whole thing. The city union is only in favor of merging operations IF they were to have all rank positions in the 150 member county department and an undeserved leg up on future promotions within that division. The city union refused to recognize any standing of the SCFD employees that was beyond "bust them back to entry level to work under us". The SCFD is a fully career staffed Fire Department. It utilizes the same training and certification process as all other fire departments in Tennessee. SCFD even standardized it's promotional process to MFD's to smooth a transition. You're right about red herrings, but perhaps mistaken as to their origin.