New Directive From Mayor to Fire Chief: "Don't Talk About the Budget"
Also includes 37 budget requestsPhoto: Video by kmtv.com
Omaha, NE-Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert has issued a directive to Fire Chief Mike McDonnell that bans him from talking to the media about his department's budget.
"Absent specific permission, under no circumstances are you or any member of your staff permitted to comment on the budget or the impact of the budget on public safety during work hours, while in uniform, or in any way holding yourself out to represent the City of Omaha or the Fire Department," the directive says in part.
In addition to the gag order, the document, hand delivered to McDonnell, includes more than three dozen budget information requests such as:
-List of all employees who have not yet completed their probationary period.
-List of all sworn personnel primarily performing secretarial duties.
-List of all department vacancies as of June 1, 2013.
-List of monthly sick leave and injured on duty leave since December 2012.
"The Fire Department has been over budget by $30 million over the past five years," the Mayors' office said in a statement Wednesday. "As Mayor, I am seeking information from and providing direction to Omaha Fire Department management so we can fix their budget after years of overspending and financial mismanagement."
KMTV put a request in with McDonnell to speak on camera about his reaction to the directive.
Stothert has been meeting with her Deputy Chief of Staff, the finance director and department heads one on one. Carrie Murphy, deputy chief of staff for Stothert, says that on June 14th, each department was given a target budget to meet. It was lower than what they had requested under the previous administration. Revised budgets were due June 19th. Murphy says the fire department budget was the only one that was "way over" the target that Stothert had requested.
A request to talk on camera Wednesday with the Mayor about the directives sent to McDonnell was denied.
Back on June 12th, just days after taking office, Stothert sent out a memo banning all city employees from talking to media without first being reviewed and approved by her office. At the time, she said it wasn't a gag order and was meant to keep everyone on the same page with the new administration.
That memo came hours before Action 3 News was set to interview with McDonnell about a new fire class that Stothert said wasn't budgeted for.
Stothert has blamed the fire department for over spending by eight million dollars, partly because of 47 new fire-fighters sworn-in last month to alleviate overtime.
On June 16th, that interview was approved, McDonnell told us then, the city finance department recommended hiring the new class and former Mayor Jim Suttle approved. The chief crunched the numbers and defends the hires.
"If we had not hired it would have been a bigger shortfall because it would have cost us more money to call back at time and half rank for rank," said McDonnell.
He says it costs roughly double to call-back one firefighter on overtime to cover a 24-hour shift compared to using a new hire to cover that same shift. He believes one way to solve the eight-million dollar budget problem would be to re-negotiate the firefighter's union contract.
"I'd like to open it up as soon as possible. Everyone has to agree to open it up and start negotiating so where we can start finding the savings."
Read the full list of requests from Mayor Stothert to Fire Chief McDonnell here.
Read the full statement from the Mayors' office here.