Fire Union, City Still at Odds Over Chief and Assessment Center

The Everett Fire Union and the City are still at odds over the naming of Chief Tony Carli as the permanent fire chief last week – particularly when it comes to how the chief was chosen over the past three years.

Union President Craig Hardy responded this week to the Independent after the City made statements in a story last week on the issue, and Mayor Carlo DeMaria drafted an op-ed explaining his position on the issue. The Union lost a grievance last summer at Civil Service, but still has an outstanding case pending with the Department of Labor.

“I want the facts to be out there,” said Hardy. “This is nothing personal against Tony Carli because he is a union member. I want everyone to have a similar shot at being chief. I think if we succeed with the Department of Labor complain, and we have a good shot of succeeding, then they may have to do this Assessment Center all over again. That’s our goal.”

Hardy said they have asked the City to wait for a written Chief’s Exam from Civil Service (which he said should be posted this month), and that the City negotiate with the Union for using the Assessment Center.

“They say they didn’t have to impact bargain with us, but the issue is they picked this position from my union members,” he said. “They are non-union once the new member gets the position because that position of Fire Chief in non-union. However, they’re picking from my union. That’s why this has to be fair and equitable…They needed to bargain the impact of that Assessment Center.”

City Attorney Colleen Mejia said the City disagrees with that position.

“The Chief may have been a member of the union as a deputy chief, but the position of chief is specifically exempt from collective bargaining…It is a civil service chief and that’s why we used a Civil Service process, that process being the Assessment Center,” she said.

Assessment Centers are used routinely, and there hasn’t been a Chief’s Exam in a number of years. However, what is at issue is Hardy said the Union and its members didn’t have ample notice of the change. Everett had used a written exam for every chief previously, and Hardy said Carli had an unfair advantage in being the Provisional Chief at the time of that decision.

“We heard talk in May 2018 that they were contemplating an Assessment Center and they asked our opinion,” he said. “We responded back with our preference. We never heard back ever again until Jan. 31, 2019 when they said the Assessment Center is starting in March 2019. Why would they send us a letter telling us they are contemplating this and asking our opinion if we weren’t supposed to have some input and they didn’t have to notify us?”

Mejia said the letter was a courtesy, and Human Resources Director Lara Wehbe said they should have raised any issues at that point.

“We sent the letter as a courtesy,” she said. “The City’s position is it doesn’t have to be impact bargained at all. That was a courtesy and not an invitation to bargain…Their only response was they were waiting for the Chief’s Exam, which has not yet surfaced.”

Added Wehbe, “If they had concerns, that (letter) was the opportunity to raise them. They could have had meetings or scheduled discussions about it then.”

He said the Union has e-mail evidence that Carli was talking with the former Human Resources director on how to set up the Assessment Center many months before the Center was announced to the general membership. That, Hardy said, gave him a leg up. Hardy also said they have e-mails showing Carli advocated for using criteria that would only benefit his bid to be chief – such as giving preference to those in a chief’s position. At the time, he was the Provisional Chief.

“That’s why I say the fix was in from the get,” Hardy said. “We also have a video from awhile back when the mayor said he didn’t care what happened, that Tony Carli was his guy and he planned to pick him.”

That is a major point of contention for the City, and representatives said any e-mails were procedural and weren’t any tip-off to Carli.

“The Civil Service Commission had all of those e-mails and decided everything was done correctly and there wasn’t even any need for an investigation,” said Mejia.

Added Wehbe, “We had no idea about the panel, the questions, the scheduling – zero. The City put out a scope of services, had responses, and picked the third party vendor…Other than that, the City had no idea about the process. Our involvement was organizational in terms of scheduling rooms or providing computers.”

For Hardy, he said it’s a matter of fairness and making sure every member who wanted to try for chief had a fair chance – and that includes Carli.

In the coming weeks, Hardy said to look for the Union to be more visible at City Hall and in Council meetings – as he has formed a Legislative Committee from the members to interact with City government more closely.

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