New fire union rep hopes to solve morale issues

FLINT TWP. — Township firefighter Kevin Clary recently introduced himself to the township board as the new union representative for on-call firefighters and said he’s ready to do whatever it takes to improve working conditions.

Speaking during public comment, Clary said he wants to work with the board to once-and-for-all resolve ongoing morale and personnel issues in the fire department that have led to several resignations in recent months.

“I am willing to be part of any kind of committee to find out what is going on to get to the bottom of this to resolve this, to get back to where it used to be,” Clary said. It hurts me, it hurts me bad. I want to get to the bottom of this (internal conflict) and I need help.”

He also chided the board for not thanking those unhappy firefighters who resigned.

“They were never thanked for their services. They were never asked any questions if there is anything we can do.’’ Clary said.

Supervisor Karyn Miller said that the public comment was not an appropriate place for the board to comment on the firefighters’ complaints. She also pointed out that proper chain of command was not followed. Proper procedure would have been for the firefighter to submit a resignation letter to the fire chief who would then bring it to the board’s attention, she said, citing the example of a resignation letter received that same night from a clerical worker in the police department who followed protocol.

“That night that firefighter never men- tioned anything to the chief,” Miller said. “We had no notice of it. … “I don’t know what his expectation was that evening but when we are approached at public comment time on an issue like that, it is hard to know what to say.”

Clary said a simple thank you would have served. He also took issue with a comment made by a resident during public comment criticizing a statement the resigning firefighter made about pay.

“I was very offended by it. Quite a few of us were offended by it,’’ Clary said. “It is not about the money. It is about the people. It is about the safety of the residents. We don’t get paid what people think we get paid.”

On-call firefighters get woke up in the middle of the night to answer calls or interrupted during family times like Thanksgiving dinner, he said of the demands of the job.

“I’m not here for the money. Most of our guys are not here for the money. We are here because we want to be here.”

Informing the board of his new role as union rep, Clary said he’d given his cellphone number to Chief John Ringwelski and also would make it available to board members to contact him.

He said he would like to lay problems to rest before new hires come on board. The department is currently interviewing on-call candidates to beef up the ranks, after the spate of resignations.

“I would like open communication,’’ Clary said. “I don’t have a problem sitting down any time, any day, if there is a problem.

“I know there are a lot of things going on and I want to kick it in the butt so that when these new guys come on they don’t get put into it.”

Miller also Clary’s announcement was the first the board had heard about a change in on-call leadership. In the normal chain of command, the board would have received a notice, she said.

She said the board had had good communication with Randy Rice, the on-call union rep whom Clary replaced because of health problems.

“I guarantee you there is good communication,” Miller said. “You may not always like the answer and I might not always like what you’re asking.”

Clary said he was fine with that and just wanted to let the board know where he stood and what he stands for.

“ I am here to help,’’ he said. “I want this thing to go forward and I don’t want to keep stepping backward.”

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