Firefighters union officials and top brass at the New Orleans Fire Department are at odds over some recent promotions and pay raises.
The latest dust-up between union President Nick Felton and Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell came Monday during a meeting of the Civil Service Commission.
At the meeting, Felton criticized the department over the way it handled the promotion of 40 firefighters to the rank of captain, as well as the distribution of extra pay to NOFD employees who are not emergency responders.
About 120 firefighters passed the test given under Civil Service rules for the promotion. But Felton said that after the test was given, McConnell issued new rules for how the promotions would be handled, allowing the candidates who passed the test to be further evaluated based on training, education and oral interviews.
In the end, those promoted were not all among those who had scored highest on the test.
Felton said he believed all of those who won promotions were qualified, but he argued that such a subjective process could open the door to abuse.
“Whatever testing requirement is out there, let everybody know it, and let everybody have an opportunity to get it,” Felton said.
McConnell said he had discussed the new requirements with Felton before they went into effect — something that Felton denied — and argued that training, education and other factors were important considerations for promotion as well as making the top scores on the Civil Service test.
The other spat has to do with a property tax written into the state constitution that provides additional pay to both firefighters and police in Orleans Parish. The Police Department and Fire Department each get a share of those funds, which are then divided among the first responders in each organization in the form of annual bonuses.
McConnell said that while reviewing the policy this year, he determined that all employees in the department were eligible for the extra pay, not only actual firefighters. That amounted to about $4,200 each for another 10 employees.
Firefighters received the same amount as the civilians, but because the total pot was split among more people, it meant their extra pay was smaller than it could have been. Felton estimated each firefighter lost more than $100, while McConnell argued it was closer to $65.
The Civil Service Commission recommended the two sides, the City Attorney’s Office, the NOPD and other officials together determine what the proper interpretation of the law is.
The commission also suggested Felton and McConnell try to work together on the promotion requirements and suggested any firefighters who felt they had been cheated by the revised rules should file an appeal.