Monday, May 05, 2008

Allegheny fire, police mergers explored

Allegheny fire, police mergers explored - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: About 50 elected leaders, administrators and public safety officials from many corners of the county met Downtown on Friday with County Chief Executive Dan Onorato to talk about the possibility of voluntary police and fire consolidations.
News of the behind-closed door meeting is showing up in the newspapers now.

I hate closed door meetings. Still do. Closed door meetings should not be tolerated among public officials. Pittsburgh is still a 'smokey city' because these closed door meetings can occur. Things get hatched in 'smoke filled rooms' where there isn't transparency and open ways. Those things are good for the power hungry and bad for the citizens.

One of the major, initial topics after the closed door meeting begins is 'supporting grants.' They want to spend more money. The idea of mergers is to save money. The money will help to oil the way -- greese the palms. With money, all problems are much smaller. But, the problem is the money! Duhh...

Power is going to shift with mergers. But, these 'supporting grants' is needed for a pay-off.

If the purpose was to make good government and better services for the citizens, there would be no talk of 'pay-offs.' The money is needed to get the good people thinking in terms of greed and envy -- not quality protection in times of urgent need.

Onorato said he hopes to offer incentives to trigger police and fire consolidations, such as offering foundation support, capital money and state funds.
Onorato wants to offer incentives = pay-offs. Onorato needs to buy the support he needs to gain in power for central command and control.

We need to talk about communications. We need to talk about coordination. We need to champion specializations that have already been nurtured among the various departments in various communities. We need to talk about trouble spots, trouble situations, trouble communities and the roots of those troubles.

We need to talk about best practices. We need to highlight recruiting. We need to look at performance of various departments in an array of situations. Where are the benchmarks?

What are the costs and how are the budgets organized? What are real-time expenses in the various locations among various elements of the budgets? Operating expenses and demands should be put on the table -- for all to see -- for all these communities.

The notion of a 'voluntary discussion' and 'voluntary mergers' is interesting. These people are public servants and they often volunteer. That's the talk and focus I'd love to touch upon first. The ranks of the volunteers is depleted as it stands today. And, the one's that are running these departments have to think about raising the bar in terms of getting more volunteers into the various systems. The hinge of volunteerism is localization. The talk of merger means less localization and in turn, less volunteer engagement.

This is about natural, grass roots vs. OVERLORD thinking.

Futhermore, the residents should have their will be measured, with votes, under the systems of democracy, to see if pathway of merger is desired. Citizens need to volunteer their hopes into the merger bandwagon. That is where the real authority for volunteering mergers should reside.

Onorato's 90-minute meeting offered a refreshing take. Humm... It is easy to not answer questions, as many questions went unanswered, and look good. It is easier to look good when others are not watching.

I could hold my own closed door meeting to counter Onorato's closed door meeting and issue a report that my meeting was "super duper refreshing." But, in the end, it isn't refreshing to have a closed door meeting. I can't get past the stench. Even when you eat in the dark you can smell the food.

Volunteers to fight fires don't have rank nor pensions. So, they think that the fire volunteers don't have standing and can be yanked around at will. Wait. They have it backwards. The one's with rank and pensions can be told what to do much more easily than the volunteers. They take orders for a living. If they don't want to do what they are told -- they can give up their pay checks and pensions. Fine. Others can be hired to replace them but under different terms, more ideal terms among departments and service status.

You don't merger and yank around volunteers and expect them to show up 'at the end of the day.'

Furthermore, volunteers who fight fire have standing. They are there because of quality of life issues. They are there out of a call to duty and service for their neighbors. If you mess with the system and best practices are going to suffer -- you'll not only kill the ranks of the volunteers, you'll also kill the entire community. People will vote with their feet two ways. They won't volunteer for the fire service. And, they won't volunteer to live there. The community will empty. Houses will be put up for sale. Properties will become vacant. Economic prosperity will nose dive.
"Consolidating police departments would be more of a challenge because of pay and pension issues," he said. "These people have rank, and what do you do? But fire departments are volunteer."

Mr. Onorato and his staff will help set up meetings and attend. But, will these always be closed meetings? These meetings will be IR communities want to discuss mergers. But real communities don't hold discussions behind closed doors.

The money matter raises its head again, in terms of bricks and mortar spending. Onorato pledged to seek state matching money to help with mergers such as building or enlarging a fire hall. Gosh. The sticking point isn't in a bigger development deal with a larger fire hall. Development is the extent of what Onorato does. Too often, Pittsburgh gets politicans that only focus upon the ribbon cutting opportunities -- the bricks and mortar projects. They are about buildings. They are about 'hardware.' But the real solutions are within software, programming, services, acts, deeds, humanity.

Whenever there are closed meetings, I get upset. But others are not invited too. Most police chiefs ... of the Alle-Kiski Valley said they were not invited to the meeting ...

Updated post.

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