Members of the Orlando Professional Fire Fighters union cast a vote of no confidence in Orlando Fire Department Chief Roderick Williams, who says the act was retaliatory for not bending to some of the union’s contract demands.
About 265 of the union’s approximately 500 members voted — and 93 percent of those that voted said they had “no confidence” in Williams’s leadership, said union president Ronald Glass.
“It’s a wake-up call to the chief,” he said. “The people that you lead don’t have confidence in you.”
Williams argued the vote is not representative of all opinions in a nearly 600-person department because not everyone voted.
The vote holds no official consequence for the chief, who is appointed by the mayor. Williams said he thinks the move was part of a “smear campaign” against him after the city sided with him on a proposed budget in September that included some issues that the union protested.
“It’s not the nail in my coffin,” said Williams, who has been chief since 2015. “Every leader that is engaged in positive change will experience this type of turbulence.”
The union-protested issues, spearheaded by Williams, included random drug testing and changes to the way employees can be transferred and disciplined.
Glass said that while the contract issue caused frustration, the union discussed holding a vote of no confidence “months” before the city council’s September vote on the contract.
“[The contract] wasn’t the end-all, be-all issue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a smear tactic at all.”
The union said Williams’s “failure of leadership” prompted the vote, accusing him of “refusing to openly advocate for improved mental and physical assessments” and failing to keep staffing and equipment levels on pace with the “explosive growth of the city.”
This fiscal year, there are approximately 1.92 OFD firefighters per 1,000 residents — down from 1.95 last year and the lowest rate since at least 2005, according to the 2018 city budget. The rate is higher than the average 1.28 per 1,000 residents for similarly-sized fire departments in the South, according to a 2016 National Fire Protection Association study.
“We deserve a fire chief equally committed to supporting us with the tools we need to get the job done,” Glass said.
Williams called the accusations “baseless,” saying the city is adding 12 more firefighter positions to the department this year.
The union also criticized Williams’s response to recent major emergencies.They said he was “unprepared” for Hurricane Irma and “took up to four days to check on special needs citizens” in the city. The Orlando Sentinel reported firefighters and inspectors conducted in-person wellness checks at all senior facilities in the city three days after the storm.
Williams said the department checked up with those on the city’s special-needs registry before and immediately after Irma struck. He also pointed to the department’s efforts to deliver ice and water to those in need.
Regarding the Pulse nightclub shooting, the union claimed he is “refusing to acknowledge incident shortfalls” and criticized what they say is his “resistance to conducting an after-action report and reluctance to creating a comprehensive policy/standard operating procedure.”
Williams said the department has commissioned an agency to conduct an after-action review, which will start next month. He said litigation, the FBI investigation and major events such as Hurricane Irma delayed the start of the report. Glass said the process should have begun sooner.
Williams said while the vote was “disheartening,” it’s not reflective of the opinion of most OFD employees and he is not taking it personally.
“We are going in the right direction, we have a great staff,” he said. “This little vote is just another opportunity to show naysayers how good we are.”
From The Orlando Sentinel