ZEPHYRHILLS — Zephyrhills Fire Chief Verne Riggall said he is disappointed that an arbitrator ruled against the city on a grievance filed by former city Fire Marshal Kerry Barnett.
Barnett was initially fired on Feb. 13, 2012, for violating the city’s policy by working another job while on sick leave. Barnett broke his toe in an off-duty incident and was placed on sick leave. He continued to work for St. Leo performing fire safety inspections.
Barnett was later reinstated to the position of lieutenant and his pay was cut 20 percent. He then filed a grievance against the city. The arbitrator ruled in his favor on Sept. 13.
The arbitrator’s ruling presents a challenge for the city because it says that “the discipline imposed upon [Barnett] must be eliminated,” but the city no longer has a fire marshal position.
Barnett said he will ask that he be rehired as a captain since the fire marshal position has been eliminated. Barnett also said he should be paid for the 20 percent pay cut since his demotion.
“Honestly, I believe there were some questions as to whether [the policy] was indeed broken,” Riggall said. “I personally believe it was broken. I’m more disappointed in the fact that we’re going to have some morale issues now and potential movement again. We just really got stabilized in the department with our command staff. This puts a little bit of a change in there.”
Riggall said he gets along well with Barnett and expects no relationship problems.
Riggall said he and City Manager Jim Drumm have not had time to talk about carrying out the arbitrator’s orders.
“The arbitrator says that Kerry Barnett deserves that and were going to make sure he gets it back like he should get it back,” Riggall said. “Rules are rules, and we’re going to follow them to a T.”
How much this will cost the city has not been determined.
“I haven’t done the first minute of work on it yet because I’m working on the budget book,” said Finance Director Stacie Poppell. The 2013-14 budget is expected to be approved Monday. The grievance will not impact the new budget, Poppell said.
The arbitrator said that the decision was based on the definition of the word “work” used as an employee or an independent contractor. Barnett was an independent contractor for St. Leo.
Barnett said that he had tried to settle with the city before arbitration, but now he would accept the arbitrator’s judgment. He said the city should pay compounded interest on his lost salary and reinstate his seniority. He works as a lieutenant at the fire department.
Drumm, in an email to the city council Wednesday, said that the issue of restitution is not resolved.
“The arbitration did not order any specific outcome or reward,” Drumm said. “This is because we consolidated his former position (fire marshal) with the assistant fire chief, so we could have a combined paramedic trained and fire combat officer as second in command versus two supervisors only able to serve in fire or paramedic services separately. Officially, the outcome, by procedure, still needs to be negotiated. The arbitrator has retained jurisdiction for 30 days for additional issues.”
Drumm said city officials expect Barnett to replace a recently promoted captain because of the seniority issue. He said the promoted captain could return to that position with upcoming retirements.
Drumm added that the city is still in negotiations for a new contract with the firefighter’s unions and is negotiating the sick leave policy regarding the permission of working other jobs while calling in sick.
“I do not wish to compromise our positions in negotiating these issues,” he said, asking council members and city staff to not discuss the ruling.