The council voted to allow Mayor William Bell to adjust the city's salary schedule for firefighters.
Bell says former mayor Larry Langford started paying certain firefighters too much back in 2008 when the city changed the way it paid for overtime and the number of hours firefighters work. The end result made rookie firefighters better paid than rookie police officers, a violation of city policy.
Now, the mayor says the city has to fix this to keep things fair, and it has to be fixed now so the city can sync its computer records with the personnel board ahead of a end of the year deadline set by a federal judge in a decades-old lawsuit.
"The judge has indicated if we do not get these personnel actions corrected, he will hold, and he pointed specifically at the mayor and said 'you will be going to jail for contempt of court,'" Bell told the council Tuesday. "But let me also say this council will be facing contempt charges as well if action is not taken."
The council voted to give the mayor the authority to make the changes.
The end result if the mayor follows through on his plan is about a 20% pay cut for most firefighters from rookies all the way up to captains.
"The mayor's playing games here," said Raymond Fitzpatrick, an attorney for the firefighters union. "He ran this through saying the federal judge is going to hold me in contempt if you don't do it right now. That's false, he knows it's false, we've been telling him it's false for a month. If the council wants to address pay in an open and honest way, then they need to man up to it or woman up to it and do it, they didn't do that today."
The city's fire chief says his crews will still fight fires, but this does create a problem.
"You can imagine," Chief Ivor Brooks said, "If somebody was taking some money from you, what would you think. That is something that as a department we have to fight, which is our morale issue."
Today's vote doesn't force the pay cuts for firefighters, but gives the mayor the authority to make the cuts he has pledged to make.
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