The current whirlwind around Steve LeClair, the president of Omaha firefighters union, is a community embarrassment on multiple fronts. LeClair engaged in repellent behavior toward a woman at a local bar. During the arbitration process over LeClair’s subsequent firing, the efforts by Mayor Jean Stothert and the city’s legal representatives to pressure character witnesses were excessive and troubling.
If LeClair ultimately is reinstated in line with the arbitrator’s decision, the union and the city have a vital obligation to move past this debacle and work together for the public interest.
There’s certainly no question that LeClair’s bar-scene behavior was reprehensible and deserving of strong condemnation. Video shows LeClair striking the woman in the back, knocking her off balance, after she rejected his advances. LeClair’s lawyer did not help matters by offering a hardly credible rationale to explain away the union leader’s disturbing, whispered comment — “White power” — to the woman, who is black.
LeClair’s abhorrent actions rightly brought him before the criminal justice system. He was sentenced in June to six months of probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of assault and disorderly conduct. Omahans, and most certainly the union he represents, should be mortified and outraged that LeClair displayed such abusive behavior toward another individual.
The city was entitled to press its case strongly during the arbitration process, but the city’s subpoena threats against character witnesses were rightly characterized by State Sens. Steve Lathrop and Justin Wayne — two of the character witnesses so threatened — as unseemly and out of line. There was no excuse for the city and its legal representatives to resort to such bullying tactics against individuals who were responsibly participating in the arbitration process.
Arbitrator Peggy McNeive ruled that the firing of LeClair was inconsistent with the city’s past actions and that LeClair’s actions warranted a five-day suspension without pay. City officials are considering all legal options in response, including a court appeal.
While the ultimate outcome remains uncertain, there is no doubt whatsoever that irresponsible action by LeClair, and by the city during the arbitration process, has brought major embarrassment to our community.