Mediation Sought In Berlin Fire Company, Mayor Dispute - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Mediation Sought In Berlin Fire Company, Mayor Dispute

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BERLIN, Md. - Most citizens would hope their local government and the town's fire department are on the same page: their safety, but months of disagreement in Berlin have proven otherwise.

Earlier this year, the town cut more than $500,000 from the Berlin Fire Company budget, but now the department says they need it back.

David Fitzgerald, President of the Berlin Fire Company says since the loss of funding "we had to cut back some of our fire prevention activities, we've had to cut back some of our volunteer incentives, as well as the maintenance on our equipment.  That's a big thing, we've cut a lot of maintenance on our equipment and that's gonna catch up to us at some point."

It's the next chapter in the ongoing battle between the Mayor and Town Council of Berlin and the Berlin Fire Company, a private organization that isn't a part of the Berlin government.

After months of dispute over cut funding and harassment allegations, both sides are seeking outside help to bridge the gap.

Fitzgerald says "We've made this request for several months: mediation."

The Berlin Fire Company is asking for a 3rd party mediator, someone without a "dog in the fight," a step the Mayor doesn't oppose...with some stipulations

In a statement to WMDT, Mayor Gee Williams wrote:

"The Fire company seeks to enter into mediation proceedings as the next step.  As mayor, I strongly feel two things must happen for mediation to begin.

First, any lawsuit resulting from the allegations must be filed so we can confirm, who among the few members of the Berlin Fire Company that created this mess, is being charged in a court of law.  This is also necessary in order for the Mayor and Council to determine who, if anyone, among the BFC's current officers or command staff, are accused in a court of law of any allegations regarding these matters.

Secondly, the Berlin Fire Company will soon be holding their annual election of officers to determine their 2013 leadership.  We want to resolve the situation, but it is not our intention to engage in mediation with any of the alleged perpetrators, among elected BFC administrative or staff leaders, who are named in any suit that resulted from workplace harassment that has been the core issue of this dispute between the Town of Berlin and the Berlin Fire Company since February 2012."
   
The Berlin Fire Company denies these allegations

Fitzgerald said "The fire company hired an attorney and did our own investigation and those items of discrimination were not found."

One thing both parties can agree on: It's the safety and security of the people they serve that's most important.

 

FULL STATEMENT FROM MAYOR WILLIAMS

From: Gee Williams, Mayor of Berlin

Subject: Mayor's Response to BFC's request for mediation

I am hopeful that the basis of a beginning of a mediation process can begin early in 2013, but there are a number of issues that continue to be unresolved before that process can begin.

The BFC continues to insist that actions related to what the Town believes to be workplace harassment by some fire company members towards paid EMS staff members, are nothing more than "middle school antics". 

The Mayor and Council strongly disagree.  We view the allegations that have been reported to our Town Administrator and Human Resources Director to be serious actions that have legal, financial and social consequences for the BFC.


For months the Mayor and Council attempted to assist and guide the BFC along a different path in resolving the issues in dispute. But our quiet, behind the scenes efforts were met by the BFC, first with denial, quickly followed by defiance.

Every time we thought we had a mutual understanding with fire company leadership, they quickly back-tracked claiming that the "floor membership" would not support the mutually agreed upon terms to resolve the dispute

We find ourselves in what seems an impossible position of attempting to rectify some serious workplace issues at the Berlin firehouse without the BFC even acknowledging the validity or seriousness of the problems.

I felt the official representatives of the Berlin Fire Company at Monday's meeting conducted themselves with civility, as is the standard for decades at Berlin Council meetings.  But, the disparaging remarks made by /wives or relatives of fire company members towards Councilmember Lisa Hall, were more than inappropriate, they were totally uncalled for and serve no purpose in working towards a resolution of the issues at hand.


It is the position of the Mayor and Council that the re-establishment of a relationship between the Town and the BFC cannot be initiated until some of the legal matters revolving around workplace harassment are addressed and resolved.

The fire company seeks to enter into mediation proceeding s as the next step. As mayor, I strongly feel two things must happen for mediation to begin. 

First, any lawsuit resulting from the allegations must be filed so we can confirm, who among the few members of the Berlin Fire Company that created this mess, is being charged in a court of law.  This is also necessary in order for the Mayor and Council to determine who, if anyone, among the BFC's current officers or command staff, are accused in a court of law of any allegations regarding these matters.

Secondly, the Berlin Fire Company will soon be holding their annual election of officers to determine their 2013 leadership.  We want to resolve the situation, but it is not our intention to engage in mediation with any of the alleged perpetrators, among elected BFC administrative or staff leaders, who are named in any suit that resulted from workplace harassment that has been the core issue of this dispute between the Town of Berlin and the Berlin Fire Company since February 2012.

I recognize that any mediation process will involve give and take, but the one thing the Mayor and Council cannot negotiate away, are the legal protections of the Emergency Services Personnel at the Berlin Fire House, regardless of who is their contracted employer is, or has been.

 

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