June 17--UNIVERSITY CITY -- A citizens' advisory board has recommended that five firefighters who were suspended over their involvement in a campaign ad be reinstated immediately, given back pay and benefits and have the incident removed from their personnel file.
City Manager Lehman Walker said Tuesday that he has the final say on the issue, and has not made a decision yet.
The five firefighters -- Jen Stuhlman, Jeff Barlage, Nick Robben, Nick Werner and Lucas Andert -- were suspended in April for three months without pay for violating a city rule that forbids first responders from being involved with political campaigns while in uniform or on duty.
A sixth firefighter, Chris Jones, also was suspended, but he has left the department. The suspensions are in effect through the latter part of July.
The firefighters appeared in a photograph on a campaign ad for Jeff Hales, who was running for the City Council in Ward 1. He lost the election.
Some of the firefighters had on protective clothing known as turnout gear.
Firefighters said that turnout gear is not a uniform, but Walker said: "Any reasonable person looking at this would say they were in uniform."
The dispute was reviewed by the Civil Service Board at a hearing May 29. The board issued its decision Monday.
"The critical point is that in the context of this case, the term 'in uniform' is ambiguous," the report says. "It is not clear whether it means a University City uniform, a generic uniform, any firefighter gear or something else."
Jeff Proctor, business manager of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2665, said in a written statement that he was pleased with the board's recommendation and hoped the firefighters would be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.
"These findings support our assertions all along that our members did nothing wrong," he said.
Walker wouldn't reveal when he might make a decision, but he said he does not always agree with the board's recommendations.
"The most recent one that comes to mind is we had some guy smoking dope at the firehouse, and they say the guy shouldn't be terminated," Walker said. "He was going to be driving a $200,000 piece of equipment, a firetruck."
Gerald P. Greiman, chairman of the civil service board, said he did not think it was appropriate to comment about the board's recommendation outside of the written record. However, he said that Walker's characterization of the board's earlier recommendation -- regarding the marijuana allegation -- was not accurate.
A review of the record in that case indicates that the firefighter asked to be allowed to retire instead of being terminated, and the board agreed.
Further, although a drug test was positive for THC, the active ingredient found in marijuana, there was no conclusive evidence that the firefighter was high while he was on duty, according to the board's report.
Susan Weich is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
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