Watertown council candidates weigh in on firefighter dispute and charter

Updated: Oct. 24, 2019 at 4:38 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - It has been a hot issue for the past two Watertown city elections and it hasn't been put out yet - the fire department and minimum staffing. Now the new city charter proposes a new job in public safety and takes away another. What do the city council candidates think?

In the proposed city charter that voters will be saying yes or no to on the ballot in less than 2 weeks, there is a revision to add a a commissioner of public safety who oversees police, codes, health and the fire department. With that, the title of fire chief will go away. Instead there will be a director of the fire department.

Are the council candidates okay with that? We asked the four hopefuls: Patrick Hickey, Robert Schorr, Sarah Compo and Jesse Roshia.

"I am not okay with that. I am against the city charter as it's written," said Hickey.

"No I am not. Matter of fact, I am against proposition number 1, specifically for that reason. It is creating another layer of government that we do not need," said Schorr.

Compo says she's torn, but "if that person in the commissioner of public safety position has that capability, has that expertise in order to be able to oversee the fire department, than I think that's okay."

“If this position is going to increase efficiency, is it going to increase safety, and ultimately does it save the taxpayers money but not reduce the quality and the safety of our folks in the community, because that is at the utmost importance, and if the answer is yes to that, then I support it,” said Roshia.

City hall has not done well when it comes to fighting the firefighters union. Do the council candidates believe the issue of minimum staffing, having at least 15 firefighters per shift, still has to be addressed? They all say yes, but how?

"Negotiation, negotiation, negotiation," said Hickey.

"I think there is room for both sides to give a little bit and come up with a solution that is fair for both the taxpayers and the fire department," said Compo.

"Everything has to be negotiated because you have contracts. You have unions you have to deal with," said Schorr.

"It needs to be negotiated. So it's not what I think, it's what we can get accomplished at the table when both sides come to negotiate," said Roshia.

The firefighters union and the city will go into arbitration November 19.

Fire union president Dan Daugherty says that just a few days ago, the city was still knowingly staffing less than 15 firefighters at a time.

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