A possible compromise is in the works that could end the disagreement about how to go about hiring Bellevue's first full-time firefighters.
On one side is the city and its part-time firefighters, who want to be considered first for the full-time positions. On the other side is the Civil Service Commission, which says giving the part-timers preferential treatment would violate state law.
If a compromise is reached, it would allow the city to start hiring new members for its understaffed Fire Department as soon as the City Council approves next year's budget.
According to state law, the commission must set up a testing process for full-time firefighters, then submit top applicants' names to the city for job openings.
But the contract between the city and the part-time firefighters' union says that current firefighters' names should be submitted before outsiders for any open spot. That was a retention strategy in a department that's losing part-timers to full-time jobs with other departments, City Administrator Dan Berlowitz has said.
But the commission says that by law, any fire or police appointments have to be made based solely on merit.
Berlowitz said a commission subcommittee proposed a compromise that would waive the rule one time only — allowing Bellevue to conduct testing while giving preference to the part-time firefighters.
Then the preferential treatment provision would be omitted in the next round of contract negotiations.
Berlowitz said he has to take a closer look at the proposal, and it would have to go through the whole commission.
“We are making progress,” he said. “They've at least come forward and said they are willing to consider at least some middle ground.”
Even if the agreement comes through, the City Council still has to approve funding for full-time firefighters. Berlowitz said Fire Chief Perry Guido is asking for 12 positions in next year's budget and plans to keep increasing that number in the future.
He and Guido have said they hope to have testing finished by the time the budget is approved so they can immediately start hiring.
Up to this point, talks between the city, union and commission have been heated. Bellevue pulled out of joint testing with Papillion in March because of the disagreement.
Then Berlowitz sent a letter to the Civil Service Commission in April, threatening to investigate its members and saying someone had disclosed candidates' identities.
He said in an interview that he wrote the letter at the request of the Bellevue Professional Firefighters Association.
Commission attorney Mike McClellan fired back, saying the commission doesn't have the names of applicants. He added that it's the commission's responsibility to investigate any leaks from that body.
“The most prudent course would be for you to address your concern to the commission,” McClellan wrote.
Berlowitz said talks are now back on track.
“My hope would be that we could ... hammer something out to at least get things moving forward within the next 30 days,” he said.
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