Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

December 07, 2003

Time to end racism in Fire Department

The recent flap concerning racial discrimination in the Annapolis Fire Department is not new. A decade ago, The Sun on February 12, 1992, ran a headline that said, "Fire Department faces racism complaints."

I am the highest-ranking, African-American on the Fire Department. A decade ago, we brought our concerns to the attention of the [Annapolis Mayor Alfred A.] Hopkins Administration. Serving on the City Council was then-Alderwoman Ellen O. Moyer.

Now, a decade later, Mayor Moyer has an opportunity to address this serious, systemic problem of racial discrimination. The Black Firefighters Association has offered to work with her and the task force that she has created, which included former Alderman Carl O. Snowden. Our Association absolutely refuses to accept another decade of continuing disparities.

Next month, we will be celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is our intention to make sure that the citizens of Annapolis know that the dream of Dr. King is being deferred by the ongoing racism that African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians continue to face. We call on Mayor Moyer to exercise leadership and end the racism at the fire department.

Lt. Clarence E. Johnson, Sr.


The writer is vice president of the Black Firefighters Association.

Firefighter overtime management's fault

I am a firefighter/paramedic working for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, and I am writing in reference to your front page article describing our overtime issue ("Routine practices fuel Arundel firefighter OT," Dec. 3).

First, I would like to discuss our "powerful union" and the negotiated benefits you call "perks." As public safety employees, we have very little leverage at the contract bargaining table. We cannot strike, which is good, and we have no product or service that can be boycotted. Until binding arbitration takes effect, about all we can do is write letters and wave signs.

One thing people have forgotten about our liberal vacation policy is that it was once negotiated for at the bargaining table. Our union asked for it and county management agreed to it. I wasn't at the bargaining table so I don't know exactly what happened, but I'm sure we gave something else up in return, probably part or all of a raise. The same goes for the number of vacation days we get each year. Negotiated. Also, we don't automatically get off on county holidays.

As for people earning thousands of dollars in overtime pay, the key word is earning. The county doesn't just give us the money. We already work a 49-hour workweek, usually in 24-hour shifts, before we are entitled to overtime. Because of our schedule, if we work a full overtime shift, that automatically means we work 48 hours in a row. Most of us don't do this because we love working, but because we have bills to pay and mouths to feed.

You mentioned that Chief Simonds allowed lieutenants and captains into the union. Actually, it was [County Executive Janet S.] Owens who allowed them back into the union, a couple of years after [former County Executive John G.] Gary arbitrarily declared them "management" and took them out of the union to save money. This illustrates a sad fact - some politicians like Mr. Gary seem to regard us not as an asset, but as a drain on county funds.

We are an asset, but we do cost money. We are understaffed, and we do rely too heavily on overtime positions, even just to bring us up to what many consider to be inadequate staffing levels. We need to hire many more personnel; to do that we need to pay well and have decent benefits. We need to be able to compete with other jurisdictions who seem to value their public safety employees more than we do. If we were compensated better, we wouldn't feel the need to work so much overtime. If we were staffed well enough, the overtime wouldn't be an issue.

Steve Reid


Bloomsbury Square a waste of money

The Chairwoman of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, Trudy McFall, doesn't seem to comprehend why it is that so many people expressed so much ire about the Bloomsbury Square public housing fiasco ("Successes seen in Bloomsbury Square," Nov. 30).

The reasons are too numerous to mention, but the long and the short of it is that many people who previously questioned how their tax money was being spent by the government are now certain that much of their money is being wasted.

Ms. McFall seems to indicate that the many critics of the project - including taxpayers and government officials - and some newspaper reporters do not have a valid reason to question how and why our money is being spent on such lavish housing. But the real question is not, as Ms. McFall indicates, the "worthiness" of the tenants to have such housing, but rather the worthiness of any citizen to be given such housing.

I could look past the $10 million price tag, including $1.6 million in cost overruns, if the end result was that the entirety of the residents who rely on public housing in Maryland were somehow better off. But that is not the case. These lavish homes will only benefit roughly 100 people, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who live in substandard housing in this state.

The larger point, however, is that the citizens who are paying for the housing do have the right to question whether or not it is a wise expenditure of our tax money. The state is not going to pay for my children to go to college, or feed them, or fix my roof or replace my seven-year-old truck. So if they are going to [spend] my tax money, I have every right to question how that money is being spent.

Whether or not my questions or those of other letter writers offend Ms. McFall and the recipients of the housing is immaterial to me. I have a family.

Michael DeCicco


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