Angry Words at Cleveland Fire Audit Meeting

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Cleveland City Council members got their first look at the latest results from an audit of the Cleveland Fire Department. The reaction from at least one member of the Safety Committee was anger and disgust.

"This is premeditated absenteeism, planned; it’s laid out, collusion with management, with some management people, that's very clear in this," said Committee Vice Chairman Mike Polensek.

The review provided a more detailed look at problems with the reporting of sick time, vacation and the trading of shifts. It revealed the sick leave use by 205 firefighters should have triggered a review to determine if they should have been placed on the "Excessive Sick Use" program.

Other findings included:

  • Sick leave was abused by firefighters causing additional overtime paid by the city.
  • Trades were uneven, undocumented and incomplete.
  • The Division of Fire was not submitting firefighter changes to the Department of Human Resources timely, resulting in over and under payments to firefighters.
  • Laid-off firefighters took a disproportionate amount of sick leave and received excessive overtime compared to the 11 pay periods prior to the lay-off announcement.
  • Leave schedules were altered throughout the year, resulting in firefighters receiving more cycle days than authorized in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
  • Days of leave were not tracked and recorded on the planning documents properly, resulting in the need for extra overtime than required during the year.
  • Timekeeping entries were made incorrectly at various levels, resulting in the wrong data being entered into city computers.

Safety Director Martin Flask told council there was plenty of blame to go around.

"This is a systemic failure with administrative duties and responsibilities within the division of fire, and to point the blame at any one individual, is probably imprudent and unfair," said Flask.

Frank Szabo, the President of the Firefighter’s Union, said he was confused by the claims of some council members who said they reviewed city budgets every two weeks, yet failed to detect the abuses cited in the audit.

"It seems that the reality of the situation is there isn't this trend that they’re identifying, if there was, they ignored it," said Szabo.

Flask told members of Council’s Safety Committee that steps were being taken that should prevent future abuses. They included a centralized office to approve all sick calls and vacation time, random reviews of time sheets, and plans to upgrade and purchase new computerized payroll systems.

Polensek said it was time for some firefighters to go.

"It’s clear to me there are some people who don’t want to work that are firemen. They don’t want to work. I gotta tell you Chief, the people who don’t want to work, we gotta get rid of them," he said.

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