The City of Plattsburgh administration has gone too far this time in its dispute with the Fire Department.
State Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller recently ruled that the city purposely set requirements for the fire-chief exam so no members of the Plattsburgh City Fire Department would qualify.
He called that “unreasonable,” “arbitrary and capricious” and “an abuse of discretion.” We call it blatantly unethical.
The city has been without a permanent fire chief since Paul Williams retired two years ago. Mayor Donald Kasprzak appointed Police Chief Desmond Racicot to serve double duty overseeing police and fire departments for a year. Since then, Assistant Fire Chief Randy Stone has been in charge.
The city apparently doesn’t want anyone from the Fire Department to move up to the top spot. Speculation is that they may have a specific person from Vermont in mind for the position.
After the ruling, Councilor James Calnon, who is mayor pro tem, said they just wanted to get the best person for the job and, in explaining the city’s intent, told the Press-Republican: “Maybe it is better to get someone from outside to be the new chief to get away from the ‘this is the way we’ve always done things’ mentality.”
But manipulating training qualifications to exclude city firefighters from even trying for the position is unfair and unprofessional.
If the city’s chosen candidate is good enough, he or she certainly ought to finish in the top three of the Civil Service exam. After receiving a list of the top candidates, city officials can then do interviews and use their discretion in choosing whom they deem to be the best person for the job.
Kasprzak was uncharacteristically silent after Muller’s ruling. We hope that is a sign that he is showing some verbal restraint and re-evaluating his decades-long fixation on the City Fire Department — even if it is supposedly for the good of taxpayers. The lack of cooperation and civility between the mayor and this crucial city department is not in the best interest of Plattsburgh residents.
That said, the Press-Republican also suggests that firefighters think hard about what prompted the city to go to this extreme to bar them from advancement in their own department. While fire personnel have certainly demonstrated skill and professionalism in fighting fires and dealing with residents’ health emergencies, often, they have also come across over the years as whiny, litigious and selfishly protective of rules and benefits that are at odds with the taxpayers’ interests.
The judge has ordered the city to set new, more inclusive test guidelines, which city officials had already done before the ruling, apparently knowing they overstepped legal lines — and those between right and wrong.
They must also re-administer the test, but that won’t happen until January, which means at least another nine months with one of the city’s major departments having only an interim leader.
The animosity between the administration and Fire Department is incendiary and detrimental. It is time for the gridlock to end.