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Lebanon fire fighters, police differ on candidates
Oct 11, 2005 12:00 am
October 10, 2005
Lebanon's police officers and firefighters have two very different ideas about how this month's city elections should go.
Last week, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Lebanon Firefighters Association endorsed opposite slates of candidates in the city races. The police organization is backing a slate of incumbents, including Mayor Don Fox, while the city's firefighters are pulling for an all-challenger line-up, including mayoral candidate Ward 3 Councilman William Farmer.
Early in the week, the FOP endorsed Fox, Ward 1 Councilor Carl Wood, Ward 2 Councilor Annette Stafford and Ward 5 Councilor Jim Mills.
On Friday, the LFA announced its public backing of Farmer, Ward 1 candidate Alex Buhler, Ward 2's Kevin Huddleston and former general sessions judge Haywood Barry for Ward 5.
Despite the fact both sets of emergency workers fall under the same arm of city government, the two groups painted diametrically opposed pictures of the incumbents' performance.
The FOP cited more than adequate resources for the police department, noting under the current set of incumbents the Lebanon Police Department has become internationally accredited, launched a cross-training program for police and maintained "fair and competitive benefits."
"These candidates have always supported and given us what we need to operate," said FOP Vice President James Stroud in a statement announcing the endorsements. "The city has grown significantly, and these candidates have done a great job running our local government."
FOP endorsements from Lebanon Police Lodge No. 83 have become an expected part of local elections in recent years, with most of the endorsements going to incumbents even in particularly heated races. The organization came out in 2004 and backed State Rep. Susan Lynn in her successful but bloody Republican primary battle.
However, LFA endorsements have been rare. This year's endorsement takes on the entire city incumbent slate by challenging the resources and pay for city firefighters.
One key issue for the LFA appears to be the pay structure for the cross-trained police officers, or Public Safety Officers (PSO), who also serve as firefighters when needed.
The LFA endorsement notes while PSO police officers are paid more for their cross training, fire fighters are not compensated for cross-training in first responder, trench rescue and extrication.
The LFA endorsement statement also suggested more firefighters are needed at the scene of each fire, stating, "Safety on the job is a very serious issue."
Finally, the LFA endorsement appeared to make a reference to the attitude of incumbent councilors and criticized them for a vote to grant full city benefits after two terms in office.
"The members of the Firefighters Association feel it is time for a change for many reasons," LFA President Gary Rowland said in a written statement. "The Firefighters Association feels that the Fire Department's hands are often tied because we are directed by the current mayor and City Council. We feel these candidates that we have chosen to endorse will have an open mind, fresh ideas and new approaches to help meet the needs of our fair city."
Caught in the middle of the two organizations' endorsements is Lebanon Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks, who oversees the police and fire departments for city government.
Weeks said he did not know how many police or firefighters each organization represented. Weeks, a former Lebanon police chief, appeared to take issue with the LFA characterization of city government's commitment to the fire department.
"In the past two years, there have been millions and millions of dollars spent on the fire department," Weeks said. "You can only move so fast."
Weeks also said he "does not know what they are talking about" in reference to an LFA statement in their endorsement suggesting some element of the current City Council referred to city employees as "second class citizens."
Though Weeks appeared to take issue with the LFA endorsement, he would not say he personally leaned more toward the FOP's slate of candidates.
"I don't agree with anybody," Weeks said emphatically. "Billy Weeks has not endorsed anyone."
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.