Omaha Fire Contract Letter Sparks Controversy

Jake Wasikowski

Omaha Fire Contract Letter Sparks Controversy

CREATED May. 3, 2013

Omaha, NE--The Omaha Police Union President claims there were backroom deals, and violations of sunshine laws when the city renegotiated the fire union contract.

Police Union President John Wells has filed a complaint with the Nebraska Attorney General and the Douglas County Attorney’s Office asking for an investigation.  It all stems from a letter, which he says amended the fire contract secretly to allow firefighters to spike their pensions in the new contract.  Spiking is the process of inflating compensation through sick leave or vacation time to receive a larger pension.

The letter was sent by the City's Fire Contract Negotiator, Mark Mcqueen, to Omaha Fire Union President, Steve LeClair, December 13th.  Wells says it violates the Nebraska Open Meetings Act because it wasn't discussed publicly, and he believes it involved city council members.  He says, since 3 firefighters retired before the deadline, it will cost more than $1.1 million which will come from the joint police and fire pension.

"You have a certain group of firefighters allowed to continue to spike, that's unacceptable.” Wells explained.  "The issue here is the city council agreed to that but kept it secret, kept it backroom, didn't present it to the public, didn't make a public record to this which we believe is a violation of the law."

Assistant City Attorney Bernard In Den Bosch says he helped draft the letter.  He met with McQueen, Omaha’s Labor Relations Director, the Omaha Fire Chief, and fire union officials so they could define "pension eligible".  In Den Bosch says they do it if to make sure everyone has the same understanding.  He adds no city council members were involved.

"I vehemently disagree with any suggestion that that letter was an amendment.  It was not an amendment,” In Den Bosch described. "I don't believe there was any backdoor deal done at all.”

KMTV Action 3 News did to reach out to the Nebraska Attorney General's Office and the Douglas County Attorney's Office but was unable to get comment to see if they are investigating the claim.