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Miami Township Trustees | Firefighter compensation, retention talks continue

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Miami Township Trustees continued last week to discuss firefighter compensation and retention — a discussion which will now be aided by a former Mifflin Township fire chief, and which is slated to culminate at an upcoming Monday, May 20, meeting of the trustees.

As previously reported by the News, the discussion comes after a resolution proposed by Interim Fire Chief Dennis Powell at an April 1 meeting of the trustees that would reclassify three firefighter/EMTs as full-time, pensioned employees.

Miami Township Fire-Rescue, or MTFR, currently employs four full-time, pensioned staff, and its roster also includes firefighter/EMTs who work 36 hours weekly and receive benefits, but who are not eligible for pension.

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Trustees and Powell discussed the matter at regular meetings on April 1 and 15, mostly in private, executive session. In public session, however, the trustees and chief have all spoken to differing facets of the issue of retaining adequate staff while maintaining a publicly funded budget.

Trustee Marilan Moir raised concerns at both meetings over the Township’s ability to afford the proposed additional pensions, particularly considering MTFR’s stated need to purchase a new fire engine in the next few years. Trustee Chris Mucher responded to the proposed resolution on April 1 by stating that he has “always prioritized personnel over shiny equipment, and this is no exception to that.” Trustee Chair Don Hollister suggested on April 15 that the Township wait to make a decision until the results of a March 2023 Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association organizational evaluation are delivered. Chief Powell noted on April 15 that other area fire and rescue agencies are “actively hiring full-time, pensioned” staff, adding that current firefighter/EMTs employed by MTFR are considering leaving the local agency if more pensioned positions are not made available.

The proposed resolution was again broached at the most recent regular meeting of the trustees Monday, May 6. Several firefighters were present for the meeting.

Near the meeting’s end, Trustee Chris Mucher suggested that trustees move into executive session to continue to deliberate on the proposed resolution. That executive session ended with only Moir and Hollister returning to public session.

“We’re committing to making a decision in two more weeks,” Hollister said at the time, referencing the upcoming May 20 regular meeting of the trustees.

However, in the interim, the trustees held a special meeting Friday, May 10, this time with former Mifflin Township Fire Chief Fred Kauser present.

Kauser, a 40-year firefighter, is also a fire instructor, lecturer, trainer and consultant, as well as a professor and researcher with a master’s degree in labor and human resource management and a Ph.D. in workforce development and education.

Moir said she reached out to Kauser for assistance and advice on how the Township might proceed with a decision on the resolution; the purpose of the special meeting was to discuss and vote on hiring Kauser as an independent consultant on the matter.

“We are at an impasse with how to retain firefighters and compensate them,” Moir said at the special meeting. “My concern was that we weren’t doing … due diligence, so I called and asked for advice.”

“What might you do to help us?” Hollister asked Kauser.

Kauser said his impression of the situation before the trustees is that the board is “favorable and supportive” of Chief Powell’s recommendation, but that they need “clarity and due diligence” in order to take the matter to a vote.

“I’ve helped dozens and dozens of organizations travel this path,” Kauser said. “Before your next meeting, I’m comfortable saying you’ll have enough information to make a decision. … In terms of the matter at hand, I won’t need to give an opinion. The work that I provide, that documentation … should be sufficient for you to make the decision because you’ll have enough information to see what the actual impact is.”

Kauser went on to say that, beyond providing data for trustees to consider with regard to making a decision about the proposed additional pensions, he will work with the Township for 30 days to make procedural recommendations on MTFR’s overall processes and systems.

“In fact, I’ll probably end up writing some of those processes,” he said.

Kauser also noted that his role is not only to work in the interest of the trustees and the general public, but as an advocate for the firefighters. He suggested that the trustees keep in mind that firefighters are very much affected by “environmental factors” like funding, public support and support from administrators and elected officials.

“These firefighters are hypersensitive to those conditions, and it has a profound impact on culture, morale and retention,” Kauser said. “Today, the [state and nationwide] data says that finances and pay still aren’t the leading factors that drive people to or away from organizations — it’s culture, leadership, management, consistency and responsiveness.”

For that reason, Kauser said, his intent, if hired by the Township, would be to deliver an analysis of Chief Powell’s proposal in a timely manner ahead of the May 20 meeting, so that it can be “decided on definitively, quickly and without concern that there’s going to be criticism or that it’s going to derail the fire department.”

“That’s why I’ve said we’ll get this done in a week — I think we have to,” Kauser said.

The trustees, Powell and Kauser entered into an executive session for the purpose of discussing a potential independent consultant agreement with Kauser and deliberated for about 40 minutes. Back in public session, the trustees unanimously approved hiring Kauser.

Following another brief executive session for the purpose of discussing “legal matters,” Mucher moved to put another vote in front of the board about the long-awaited OFCA evaluation.

“As a result of executive session, I’d like to make a motion that the evaluation that we entered into with the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association in March [of 2023] that was promised to be delivered … within 90 to 120 days has yet to be delivered, and if it’s not here by a week from today at 5 o’clock, we’re going to consider [the contract for the evaluation] null and void,” Mucher said.

The trustees unanimously approved the motion.

The next regular meeting of the Miami Township Trustees will be held Monday, May 20, beginning at 5 p.m. in the MTFR community meeting room.

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