Going behind closed doors: New plan for Austin Fire Dept. hiring dispute

Firefighters

AUSTIN (KXAN) – For a third time in as many city council meetings, a proposed consent decree item to amend rules around hiring candidates for Austin’s Fire Department has been pulled from an upcoming agenda.

Agendas for Jan. 30 and Feb. 27 contained the item for council’s consideration and possible vote. And now, KXAN confirmed the consent decree will be nowhere on the public agenda for March 6.

Where it will be broached is in executive session March 6, much like any sensitive personnel or legal matter where privacy will allow more frank discussion and the avoidance of legal stumbles. The agenda item (#31) indicates city legal council will attend the executive session.

Mediation-bound

In an email sent Tuesday to association members, Austin Fire Association President Bob Nicks also said the union will now be part of mediation talks with the City of Austin, Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunities Commission attorneys. No vote will happen until the conclusion of that mediation which is set to begin March 5, Nicks wrote.

Austin Fire Association President Bob Nicks (Robert Maxwell/KXAN)
Austin Fire Association President Bob Nicks (Robert Maxwell/KXAN)

“This is wonderful news and we’re glad to hear council has determined it’s best to allow adequate time for our discussions to continue before calling for a vote,” he wrote in the email.

Nicks’ email went on to say the mediation is non-binding and if an agreement is made during mediation, a full online vote of the AFA membership is required before it can be finalized.

Nicks said he would offer no further comment until just before a final council vote.

Last week, Nicks told KXAN his team needed up to four weeks to analyze Department Of Justice findings into the 2012 and 2013 hiring processes that found evidence of discriminatory hiring practices.

A proposed decree worked out by City and Justice Department lawyers put on the Feb, 27 council agenda called for back pay for a number of successful minority hires now in limbo, and the creation of up to 30 reserved spots for African-American and Hispanic cadets at future Austin Fire Academy classes.

Austin Fire Department brought on its last group of 47 Fire Academy graduates in July. Hiring was suspended mid-September 2013 after the city received the DOJ notice of findings.

Four Austin firefighters are about to retire this month, but city officials and the fire union have told KXAN the vacancy rate of close to 60 is manageable, and better than minimum staffing levels are being maintained at all city fire stations.

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