January 30, 2004

"Positive Sign of Progress" on Dryden firefighting

Today's Ithaca Journal editorial lauds the incoming town board for meeting with volunteer fire companies this week. They note that:

Often, friction between some board members, the town supervisor, several firefighters and chiefs often hampered progress on the more substantive issues of audits, budgets, equipment and services provided.

While there clearly was friction in the past, it wan't clear at Tuesday's meeting that the friction will magically disappear thanks to "an encouraging precedent that should be maintained." Some of that friction - particularly surrounding the differing responsibilities of the Town Board and the individual companies - seems driven by substantive issues themselves.

At Tuesday's meeting, there were two key examples worth watching closely before declaring peace. The first was firefighters' concerns over Councilman Marty Christofferson's suggestions of bringing together multiple companies to discuss coordination and purchasing. It's the Town Board's job to evaluate how to disburse fire protection funds to the various companies, but it's clear that the companies don't want to be put in competition with each other or have to comment on each other's practices. There's lot of interest in long-term planning, but implementing it will take more than this meeting.

The second major issue, a more immediately concrete one, was Duane Testut's question about quarterly payments to companies. He seemed to regard them as a bad idea from the prior administration, but Councilman Chris Michaels defended them as a necessary means to ensure compliance with contracts - though the value of that compliance, especially around paperwork, was also questioned by firefighters. The companies seemed annoyed that the quarterly payments remained in the contract, and asked that they have a chance to negotiate the (yet-unsigned) contracts before having them forced on them, as happened last year.

At the meeting, it sounded like the Board would vote at their February meeting to approve the contracts in their current form (with quarterly payments) and send them to departments, and then possibly amend the contract. That process will definitely be worth watching.

On the bright side, the meeting itself may provide the Town Board with a new model for talking with communities in depth. Instead of the formal board-at-the-front with limited public input, this was a give-and-take session that largely ran itself. Even when the conversation showed signs of generating heat, people let each other talk. The informality was impressive, and I think that the combination of informality and focus on a single subject made it far easier for the conversation to flow.

Posted by simon at January 30, 2004 10:09 AM in ,
Note on photos