Fort Wayne City Council, working with the firefighters’ union, Mayor Tom Henry’s office and Fire Chief Eric Lahey, approved changes to the department’s Merit Commission on Tuesday night.
The mayor and union will have two appointments each, and must choose them from different political parties. City Council will also have a member, which will be non-voting and serve mainly as an additional voice in accordance with state law.
For the last decade, all three appointed members of the commission have been selected by the Mayor’s Office — a stipulation approved by Council and the union at the time in order for the board to form.
However, this set-up has created conflict: the commission has the power to promote, demote and fire members of the department. Since the commission is stacked with mayoral appointments, this has created occasional “toxicity” between the department, the city administration and council.
Perhaps more importantly, this also flies against state law: the merit commission is supposed to have three appointed members, but one must come from the municipal body — in this case, city council.
Ultimately, following an hour and a half of discussion, all parties amicably agreed to conform the board to state law. Tim Mangus served as legal counsel for the department during the discussions, sounded confident in the effort.
“I don’t think you’re restrained by state law from having the legislative body appoint a member. You can essentially do whatever you want as long as at least one-third of the commission is made up of active members of the fire department.”
Second District Republican Russ Jehl was a co-sponsor of the measure and noted the importance of getting the merit commission reorganized before the next iteration of council takes over in 2020.