My remarks to the city, as prepared, delivered during the public forum section of the council meeting of September 18, 2017.
My name is Michael Dylan Brennan, and I live at 3814 Washington Blvd.
I am here today as a concerned citizen regarding our fire department. By letter dated June 2, 2017, our local fire union informed our city government that the union membership had overwhelmingly entered a vote of no confidence against our fire chief, Douglas Zook. They cited a number of safety concerns, and presented this letter at city council, together with a three page list of concerns. Not every item on the list is of equal weight. Some items may be more concerning than others. But there are safety concerns listed, issues regarding staffing, readiness, discontinued training and programs, equipment problems. These things cannot help but impinge on safety.
At every regular city council meeting since, (and granted we had a summer break,) the local union president has addressed the city. To no seeming avail. Yes, a letter went out and was posted on the city website dated July 17 dismissing or minimizing the various concerns. In that letter, with respect to the vote of no confidence in Chief Zook, the official position of administration was “This is a matter that I am taking very seriously and am investigating.” Two months later, I know many concerns residents would like an update on that investigation. Hopefully one will be forthcoming.
Last month we had a safety meeting. Apparently these safety meetings traditionally cover crime statistics, and we saw fit to stick with tradition rather than also address the fire safety issues so many residents are concerned about. Chief Zook was nowhere to be found, and thus, he was not on hand to address in August the matters raised in June.
Towards the end of the last council meeting, on Sept 5, 2017, three months after the no confidence vote, Chief Zook finally broke his silence. A lot of people didn’t get to hear that because it was late in the meeting, and we don’t video and stream our meeting . I sat through Chief Zook’s questioning by council. I wish he had been forthright. I wish he would not have been evasive. I wish that he would have been as direct in answering questions as you, the council, were direct in asking them. He radiated more heat than light.
And while not a safety issue, I was surprised by a number of revelations, including a box of computer tablets, unused for years and stashed away into storage. Never happy to hear about government waste.
Getting back to the June 2, 2017 fire union letter and the running list of concerns, nowhere on there does it state that our firefighters are afraid of going to East Cleveland. Despite that, we have heard it said in this room, in the July open letter, and again on Cleveland.com today, that our fire fighters are afraid of going to East Cleveland. It bears repeating that the concern about all the trips to East Cleveland, a city with whom we do not share a border, is that it unduly strains the resources of our department. Yes, I understand mutual aid obligations, and that if we are out on mutual aid, someone else can come to our mutual aid, but those are to be balanced with the obligation a city like East Cleveland has to adequately staff its own EMS department. And the revelation two weeks ago that even after the East Cleveland runs were to have stopped, we had a shift where not one but both of our ambulance crews were on runs to East Cleveland, leaving our city unprotected except through mutual aid. We wish the citizens of East Cleveland better than what they have. But none of this has anything to do with our fire fighters being afraid. That is a canard that originated from our fire chief. He had a more colorful word for it, one that I will not say here. But every time someone says that University Heights fire fighters are afraid to go to East Cleveland, they are echoing that offensive slur. Why don’t we stop doing that?
(Note: this is where the mayor, as presiding officer, informed me that my five minutes was almost up. In several years of attending council meetings, I don’t recall ever seeing the time limit enforced.)
This is a matter of respect. Of course there is a chain of command, of course there is a hierarchy. But in any flow chart, there is room for respect. Mutual respect. Respect even when, and especially when, you disagree. Respect for the rules. Respect for each other’s roles. Respect for the few checks and balances we do have in our charter and ordinances. Because ultimately, we all want the same thing, a great city for us to live in. When we treat each other with respect and act in good faith, we will have that great city. A city where our best days are still ahead of us. And so, respectfully, it is high time for the city to get to work on the concerns raised by the fire union back in June. Nothing less than the safety of our residents – and the safety of our first responders – is at stake. Thank you.