Negotiations between the City and the MCVFD regarding the 2018 contract for fire protection services may actually begin to move forward following the unanimous approval of Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Orchard’s motion Tuesday evening to remove what he described as “the two bulls” from the proverbial arena (Mayor Robert Steinhagen and MCVFD Chief Robert Jones) in hopes that terms for a 2018 all-volunteer fire services contract can be settled. Both Steinhagen and Jones have butted heads in the past, which Orchard sees as the primary reason for an impasse that has resulted in the MCVFD outright rejection of the City’s December 13 contract offer without following-up or offering any alternatives.
Steinhagen announced the willingness to step off the Council’s “negotiating team” last October in hopes that it would motivate Jones back to the table with Mayor Pro Tem and Council Member Scott Turnbull. However, Jones continues to reject the Council’s many requests for face-to-face diplomacy insisting instead that negotiations be in written form, where either the 11-members of the MCVFD or the City Council can assemble for official meetings to consider the other’s proposal.
Since the members elected him Chief four years ago, Jones has served as the figurehead and spokesperson for the MCVFD. However, Orchard’s proposal requires that Jones step aside and have the MCVFD members select as many as two representatives who will be granted the power and authority to act on their behalf, just as the Council has promised to allow Orchard & Turnbull to do for them.
The Mayor and City Council has continued to keep the table open for face-to-face negotiation, even after the Fire Chief’s abrupt reversal on October 13, 2017 when unsolicited, he sent the Mayor Pro Tem a text message stipulating an ultimatum that the City accept just one of three options, which were to either (1) continue with the current funding, (2) increase funding to add Sunday 7am-7pm for the station to be manned, or (3) return to an all-volunteer fire service.
Before even seeing it, during the November 14, 2017 City Council meeting, Jones announced that the MCVFD members were rejecting the Mayor’s Council-supported proposal, which would have required the MCVFD to begin charging those that reside in the other two-thirds of the fire district outside the city limits that have contributed nothing financially for the services, 83% of which are funded by City taxpayers and the remaining 17% is funded by the County through sales taxes collected in unincorporated areas and divided among all cities.
Instead, the MCVFD delivered a contract proposal for the second of the three options on November 11, 2017. The Mayor Pro Tem’s request for an editable version of the proposal for the City to respond and offer alternatives was rebuffed, which was why the City, in accordance with the MCVFD’s directive, rejected the MCVFD’s proposal and in exchange, provided an alternative contract offer, which accepts the MCVFD’s third option to return to an all-volunteer fire service.
Due to scheduling conflicts between both parties, the Mayor Pro Tem has informed the Council that meetings cannot commence before the 24th but says that the MCVFD has agreed to the terms of negotiations.