UH firefighters union urges residents to ask questions about proposed merger of departments
On Feb. 1, the University Heights Firefighters Local 974 president was handed a packet by Mayor Infeld with no additional information given about it. It was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Mayor Infeld of University Heights and Mayor Leiken of Shaker Heights, outlining their plan and timeline to eliminate the University Heights Fire Department. The MOU states that a council of governments (COG) will be formed and controlled solely by Infeld and Leiken, taking power from the city council, the representatives of the people. [A Feb. 1 press release posted on both the Shaker Heights and University Heights city websites outines the "next step" in the preparation of an agreement to create a joint fire department.]
On Jan. 10, a town hall meeting was held to allow residents of University Heights the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns about the study and the prospect of "merging" fire departments. A subsequent Jan. 16 Sun Press article [by Ed Wittenberg] stated, “Infeld said the next step is for her and council to reflect on the comments they have heard from the public meetings, and from residents outside the meetings, and make a decision.” Comments were not all that were heard at the meeting. In fact, a multitude of questions and serious concerns were offered by the audience and the vast majority were met with resounding silence . . . no answers were given. This points to a legitimate question: Were the town hall meetings and requests for input from residents really just a deception?
Examination of the MOU reveals it was signed by Mayor Infeld the very next day after the town hall meeting. A closer look at the language reveals that it was drafted prior to October 2012. A façade of open-mindedness was continued in a Jan. 18 Sun Press article [by Ed Wittenberg] when Mayor Infeld said, “The two departments still operating separately have not combined, and are deep into exploring a consolidation model of operation.” It appears that the decision to "merge" departments had already been made by the mayors, and that everything else was a dog and pony show. Have the council members even been informed of the decision and plan developed by the mayors?
The residents of University Heights deserve to have forthright, accurate and timely information given to them about considerations to alter or eliminate a department that serves to protect and save their lives and their property. The University Heights Firefighters Local 974 has tried to be actively included in the study and conversation about a potential merger, but without success. We ask that you call your council representatives and start asking questions. Also, please attend the upcoming council meetings where this plan is speedily coming before council for a vote. Keep asking until you receive the definitive, clear answers that you deserve. Local 974 members will be doing their best to get answers to the residents and their own members and ensure that the outstanding and professional EMS and fire services provided in University Heights are rightfully held as a top priority.
John Novosielski is president of University Heights Firefighters Local 974.