City fire officer's union president suspended after criticizing chief

Insubordination charge follows e-mail exchange

March 20, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The president of the city fire officer's union was suspended this week after posting a message critical of Fire Chief William J. Goodwin on the union's Web site and then exchanging a flurry of e-mails with the chief, another union official said yesterday.

Stephan G. Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association, Local 964, was indefinitely suspended without pay after Goodwin accused him of insubordination, said Mike Waldner, the union's first vice president.

Fugate confirmed that he had been suspended but declined to comment further. Goodwin could not be reached for comment. His spokesman, Kevin Cartwright, said he could not confirm the account.

Fugate posted a message on the union Web site Wednesday, the day city finance officials unveiled a proposed fiscal 2005 budget that calls for reducing the Fire Department's budget by 5.1 percent, to $103 million.

To meet its budget, the department would have to eliminate overtime by not staffing at least four of the city's 55 firefighting squads each day. That would require "rotating closures" at firehouses around the city - which Fugate said would violate Goodwin's pledge not to close stations.

"I've been continually heartened and impressed with Chief Goodwin's `firm' stance on not presiding over `station closures,' but it would now appear (certainly to me) that Chief Goodwin has been incredibly less than honest in his stated position," Fugate wrote. "I do sincerely hope I am wrong, and will be the first to say so ... but, we'll see."

A series of private e-mails between Goodwin and Fugate ensued, and Fugate was summoned to the chief's office Thursday morning, when he was suspended, Waldner said.

Waldner said he believes the e-mails were the direct cause of the suspension, not the Web posting that triggered the messages. He said he had not read the e-mails.

Waldner said it would be unusual for a union official to be disciplined for speaking out publicly against the chief.

"If it's just about disagreeing on the closures, I think it's baseless and it will all get straightened out," said Waldner, who was trying to arrange a meeting with Goodwin to get Fugate reinstated.

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