County Council members started discussing a potential work group Tuesday that will examine working conditions, collective bargaining and other topics between the county firefighters union and county officials.
The work group is in response to Question D, a ballot measure that passed with more than 70 percent of the vote last November. That measure expands collective bargaining matters for the county’s career firefighters, and adds an ordinance for binding arbitration, by a neutral arbitrator funded in the county budget.
More than half a dozen Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County members were present at Tuesday’s meeting, listening to council discussion.
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D), who started the discussion Tuesday, told other council members the county code’s current collective bargaining language is “bare-bones.” The main purpose of the committee, she added — which will include at least one member from the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County and one from the county’s volunteer firefighter services — is to conduct research related to that issue, mediation, working conditions and other topics.
Once the work group has its first meeting, it should complete its work within 90 days, Fitzwater said.
“I don’t want to see this linger on ... because I do think this was passed by the voters, I want to see us take action on that,” she said.
After the meeting, Fitzwater said she hopes to email people that should be in the work group, including Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum and a member of the county attorney’s office, by the end of the week to determine the first meeting time and place.
That should occur within a month, she said. How often the work group wants to meet is up to its members.
One of the main issues the group will tackle is binding arbitration. Fitzwater said she prefers mediation to the former, given the uncertainty a neutral arbitrator can have on the process, from a financial standpoint.
At one point in the meeting, Councilman Steve McKay (R) suggested that there be a ordinary citizen, a “generalist,” on the work group to provide insight from a regular county taxpayer.
Those residents, he said, are “key stakeholders” in whatever bill the council chooses to pass. Fitzwater said she was open to the concept, but questioned what process the council would use to select that person.
Councilman Jerry Donald (D) said multiple times that Fitzwater ultimately has to draft the legislation and get council members to agree with her.
“We’re all going to get a second bite at this apple” in terms of the council’s stance on the bill, Donald said. “In the end, you’re going to have to decide what to put in this bill based on what you hear.”
One idea Fitzwater heard Tuesday was having two career firefighter union members instead of one. That suggestion was initially made by Councilman Kai Hagen (D), and seconded by Councilman Phil Dacey (R).
Fitzwater said after the meeting she would consider it, and preferred that both members are elected officers in the union.
The work group’s ultimate goal is to provide as much information before she and other council members start working on a bill.
“The goal of that work group is to gather as much of that information on the front end,” Fitzwater told council members Tuesday.