The leadership vacuum will be filled


A vacuum in leadership will always be filled, although not always by those who should be leading. That’s why it’s important that the Paint Creek fire board move quickly to shoot down the belief by some in the rank-and-file that there’s a leadership void when it comes to managing the affairs of the fire district.

Paint Creek staffers were right to bring certain deficiencies to the board’s attention, especially regarding unpaid overtime and some of the safety issues. There were other allegations that were accurately described by Dan Mathews, the board president, as “nit-picking,” an adjective that angered some firefighters but which became obviously fitting when the full laundry list was publicly distributed.

As with any movement, there are the more vocal and active at the center of it who eventually convince everyone else to follow the leader, even if everyone else’s heart is not particularly in it. Eventually there develops a mob mentality, with half the mob at some point wondering how they got there and wishing they could go back.

Either way, after hearing the allegations from the chief’s staff, the board immediately suspended George in early July, while lengthy internal and external investigations were initiated.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the board convened to determine its course of action. It made two back-to-back decisions that, unfortunately, were not compatible. First, the board decided to keep Bradley George as chief. Then, even though he had already been off work for two months, it decided to suspend him for 30 more days.

If anything should have been crystal clear to the Paint Creek board by that time, it was that the last thing needed was a continued vacuum of leadership. What was needed, once the decision was made to keep the chief employed, was to put him back to work immediately, even if that meant losing others in protest.

As almost everyone agrees, Paint Creek firefighters and EMS personnel do a very good job firefighting and providing emergency medical services. Some of them, including all the full-timers, belong to a union, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – yes, the same union that represented Hillsboro Fire & Rescue.

Several people have suggested that with a mayoral election coming up in Hillsboro, the timing of all this is not coincidental. They submit that it is designed to remind everyone of the Hillsboro fire department controversy. This theory postulates that the desired result is to hurt Drew Hastings’ reelection chances.

I love a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, but this one is hard to believe. Even if there’s truth to it, I wonder why anyone assumes that reminding people of the fire controversy hurts the mayor? In fact, it probably helps him.

We should all hope that lessons were learned from the last experience, when Hillsboro’s local IAFF members – doing what any of us would have done in the same situation – recognized a leadership vacuum over the years, filled it themselves, and, not surprisingly, ended up with contracts that eventually led to a public outcry about salaries.

It’s important to remember that such outcries came not only from Hillsboro residents, but from newspaper editorial pages (before I came back here), as well as from township trustees who said they did not want to keep contributing their tax dollars to such salaries through continued contracts with the city.

What Drew Hastings achieved was getting the city out of the business of having to deal with these headaches, the wisdom of which is more evident to people with each passing year. A township trustee told me a couple of weeks ago, “I didn’t like Drew back then, but the fact is he was pretty much right about all this.”

Even Pam Limes, the mayoral candidate who once fought to save Hillsboro Fire & Rescue, said recently that we have Paint Creek now, and she wants it to succeed. We all should want the same. Will the Paint Creek board step up before the leadership vacuum fills itself? It may already be too late.

Some union members already felt bold enough last week to present board members with a “no-confidence” vote against the chief, while also taking a shot at their other boss, the board itself, meaning almost no hands were left unbitten. A comment on one of the documents handed to the board said that the number of part-timers who declined to vote is proof of a “lack of confidence in some members of this board as well.” Take that!

Just curious – what would happen if the chief and the board presented the firefighters with a “no confidence” vote on them? Then it would be unanimous. Everybody could just make it clear that nobody has any confidence in anybody else. If that happened, maybe everybody could just shrug and go back to work while everyone’s confidence slowly returned.

There is still reason to hope that some of the more reasonable minds among the rank and file can prevail and convince most, if not all, to take a deep breath and give everyone a chance to start over. Hopefully, the more mature staffers will outnumber those who already have a plan to force Bradley George out the door and usher in their personal picks for chief and assistant chief.

If the Paint Creek board allows that to happen, it should just dissolve itself and hand the keys to the board room to the IAFF. Even if Bradley George does not survive this, the board can’t allow the next chief or assistant chief to come from the ranks of those who instigated his departure, as qualified, dedicated and even well-meaning as they might be.

There is management, and there is labor. May God bless them both. But when it comes to public employee unions and taxpayer dollars, labor cannot be its own management. We have seen what happens when it does, and there is nothing to be gained by encouraging history to repeat itself.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

By Gary Abernathy

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