Ohio City Debates Eligibility List for Firefighter Candidates

Sept. 6, 2013
The eligibility list in Lima was extended for a year.

Sept. 06--LIMA -- The Civil Service Board reaffirmed its commitment Thursday to a firefighter eligibility list it created, renewing the list for a year.

The eligibility list created a year ago from a civil service test would have expired today without board action. Hiring from the list has stalled amid the threat of a lawsuit if the city hires from the list and a difference of opinion between the board and Fire Department about who is considered to have passed the test.

"Our position is that we have never not extended a list. We always do. I don't know why we wouldn't this time," Civil Service Board President Jacqueline Tyre said. "Hire off the list we sent."

Civil service test eligibility lists are good for only a year, unless the board renews the list for an additional year.

The issues came to light in August, when 3rd Ward Councilman Jesse Lowe II asked Fire Chief Mark Heffner to provide a written explanation about why the process to hire new firefighters was halted earlier this year.

On Aug. 12, Heffner wrote a letter to City Council President John Nixon, detailing the lawsuit threat and disagreement with the Civil Service Board.

The Civil Service Board and Fire Department used a new test and it has four components. The Civil Service Board believes anyone with a compiled score of 70 percent or higher passed. Heffner eliminated anyone from that list who failed any one of the four components, even if that person's score was 70 percent or higher. The testing company recommends failure if any one section is failed.

The board took up renewing the firefighter eligibility list first on its meeting agenda Thursday. Heffner and Human Resources Director Vince Ozier were not yet present at the meeting and the board voted 2-0 (board member Lamont Monford was not present) to renew the list. Shortly after, Heffner and Ozier arrived. Ozier asked what action had been taken and reminded the board the position of the administration was in favor of allowing the list to expire.

"We have a candidate on the list who has an attorney who has indicated that if the city moves forward with hiring from the list, they would bring suit against the city," Ozier said. "Our concern is that if we hire from the list, some time in the future it's conceivable that the city could be ordered by a court to hire that candidate with back pay. ... The legal advice is that it's the safest position for the city. That's what our recommendation was."

Tyre said the Civil Service Board has set a precedent by always renewing a list, and that the board interviewed 70 eligible people in good faith for a job with the city.

"We've done nothing wrong," Tyre said. "What's wrong with using the right rules?"

Heffner and Ozier said it's not a matter of right or wrong, but protecting the city from unnecessary risk or a judge's decision from an interpretation of the law.

The candidate threatening to sue has issue with the city using what is called the "Rule of 10" instead of the old "Rule of 3." In 2012, the city changed its hiring process. The old process meant the city could use only the top three candidates for each position. The new process allows the city to use the top 10 candidates.

The firefighter eligibility list was created Sept. 6, 2012, and council passed the ordinance making the change Sept. 10, Heffner said. The threat of the lawsuit is over the timing; the candidate wants the city to use the top three, not top 10. However, the city's ordinance refers to any existing or future eligibility list.

During the course of the discussion, Ozier said he had additional information about the lawsuit threat and the board went into two separate executive sessions, including one with Law Director Tony Geiger, whom the board called during its first executive session.

After the board came out of the second executive session, it voted again on a formal motion reaffirming the decision it had made at the beginning of its meeting: to send a communication to Ozier notifying him of their voting to renew the list and certification of names on the eligibility list.

Copyright 2013 - The Lima News, Ohio

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