Peace Breaks Out At The Toledo Fire Department

TOLEDO, OH — Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago and the president of Local 92, Jeff Koenigseker, made a somewhat surprising but totally laudable public display of peace and unity during a recent joint appearance.

The chief and the union leadership have come a long way since 2015, when the membership of Local 92 took a vote of no confidence in the chief and launched an all-out campaign to remove him. His offense? Cracking down on sick-leave abuse and insisting that officers arrive for work ready to work, among other things. In a word, the chief is a stickler for professionalism. He was uncompromising on that, as he should have been.

He might have been more of a diplomat and more of a father figure to some of the men. But he might have learned that lesson, too.

Efforts to topple Chief Santiago failed mainly because the forces behind the campaign offered no solid, legitimate reason for him to be fired. He may not be perfect, but he is good chief — hardworking, honest, and totally honorable.

Eventually Local 92 picked new leadership and, in time, the conversation and the healing began.

Chief Santiago says he appreciates the willingness of Mr. Koenigseker to be open and to work together.

All of this is good news for the chief, firefighters, and the people of the city. But it is also good news for Mayor-elect Wade Kapszukiewicz. He will now be able to avoid a painful personnel battle.

The firefighters union gave the new mayor his first endorsement in the recent mayor’s race. Prior to the hatchet being buried by the union and the chief, some thought the payback for the union’s endorsement would be firing Mr. Santiago. If that was ever in the cards, it does not need to happen now, and it ought not to happen.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz will come into office next month with a full plate of matters that need his immediate and sustained attention: Toledo city government needs an administrative overhaul and a new culture of competence. The mayor must shepherd Toledo through negotiations to create a new regional water authority. The city needs to tackle a blight and ugliness problem and to keep the economic-revitalization ball rolling. The rift between city and county government must be mended. The mayor has committed to leading the fight for universal preschool for all Toledo children.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz would be a fool to attempt to dismiss Chief Santiago, which he can only do legally for cause. It would be a huge and destructive distraction and he would be choosing as a first battle a fight he cannot win.

There is no need for such a distraction. Peace has now broken out at the fire department. The mayor should let it ferment, and let the chief and the rank and file of the TFD do their jobs.

From The Toledo Blade