Sunday, September 15, 2013

School yard brawl, diplomatic posturing, battle of wills, or dangerous game of chicken?

I am not quite sure what to say about this quote of Borough Solicitor Eastlack in the September 14th article by Phil Davis in the South Jersey Times: "If the fire company admits that the borough had the authority and that Mr. Mason is no longer the chief, then there’s no more lawsuit."  I am thinking the key phrase is "admits ... authority" but let us examine some other data first.
  1. Mr Mason is not fire chief as he declined the position after being re-elected to that office by the fire company.  He admitted this fact at the Borough Council meeting September 13th aloud to everyone present or on the phone.
  2. Mr Mason is an exempt fireman and as such has tenure as a fireman (paid or not) under NJ state laws (see 40A:14-62) without a fair and impartial hearing. As paraphrased by the NJ State Firemen's Association : 
    The tenure act applied to “any fireman of any volunteer fire department who was holding a position or office under government of this State, or the government of any county, city, town, township or other municipality,” and “whose term of office is not fixed by law.” Generally this meant appointed without any termination date or for an unspecified duration. In such situation there could be no termination, change of position, demotion, or reduction in pay without cause. This normally required a complaint, list of charges, hearing and findings of fact and a determination identifying the basis of the cause. Currently most of these cases follow the procedures established by the Civil Service Commission and/or the Public Employees Relations Commission (‘PERC’). (#22)
  3. Borough Council removed Mr Mason from the fire company for cause without a fair and impartial hearing.  They gave him 30 days to respond with a check mark whether he wanted a hearing or not and when he didn't, they went ahead and removed him.  They have to hold a fair and impartial hearing whether he agrees to it or not.  Since they are the ones with the charges of misconduct, the Borough Council can not itself hold the hearing as it would certainly not be impartial.  So if the offer was for a hearing where the Borough Council presided, it was a disingenuous offer at best.
  4. The fire company did re-affirm that Mr. Mason is a member of the fire company.  They are loyal to a fault; they knew Mr Mason's removal did not happen as a result of a fair and impartial hearing; they need his considerable expertise in fire and rescue operations.
  5. The fire company did issue an ultimatum to Borough Council on their website, which reads
    "September 12,2013 The Newfield Fire Company No. 1 has Made the following statement to the Mayor and Council.We as the members of the Newfield Fire Company request Mayor and Council within 30 Days to reinstate William Mason as a member and chief of the Newfield Fire Company and immediately cease all litigation against the  Company.If you fail to grant this request be advised that 30 days from this date we will resign as the firefighting authority for the Borough.We urge you to search for alternative fire fighting protection for the Borough of Newfield in the event that you do not meet these conditions within the next 30 days."
  6. A copy of the lawsuit is available here.   Its statement of particulars is in dispute, which is why there are civil law suits in the first place.
Both Mr Mason and the fire company have admitted publicly (and privately to the Borough Council if my insider information is correct) that Mr Mason is not fire chief.  The second part of Mr Eastlack's conditions for dropping the lawsuit has been met.

So what does the first part mean?  What does it mean for the fire company to admit "that the borough had the authority"?  Who is the borough in that phrase?  That sounds like a teacher trying to discipline the parties in a school yard brawl when, in fact, you are one of the parties to the school yard brawl.

Diplomacy is often a game of rhetoric and posturing with a hidden agenda since failure of diplomacy is often war.  Is this posturing? Or rhetoric? For what end?  To humiliate the members of the fire company for loyalty to a man the Borough Council allegedly despises and the fire company evaluates quite differently than the Borough Council does?  To make the Borough Council members feel justified in their actions?

What is the hidden agenda?  I feel its aim is to run Bill Mason out of town, an appalling idea on so many levels.  I think the generation before mine fought a war because a government decided to "run out of town" people they didn't like.  Of course, that government went way beyond merely running out of town.  We say and I hope we mean it that the USA is a 'free' country.  To me, the word 'free' extends to letting me decide where I want to and can afford to live.  Even criminals who have served their time can do that.  I don't have to like my neighbors but also I don't get to harass them to get them to move, nor do my governments.  We had that struggle in the 50's and 60's - it was called the Civil Rights Movement.

In a battle of wills, the first one to 'blink' loses and the battle is over.  Bill Mason 'blinked' when he refused to accept the position of fire chief.   Although 'control' is a strong theme of this mess, it isn't just a battle of wills because it would already be over.

Lest you think this is merely one sided, now I want to blast the fire company.  I understand your feelings and I sympathize with your concern that what is to prevent the Borough Council from deciding they don't like any member and removing that person or persons in the future.  As a homeowner I see your ultimatum as a dangerous game of chicken that you are playing with lives and property you have sworn to protect.   In the game of chicken portrayed in movies with two cars, the only lives and property at stake are those who have chosen to be in the game.  Pure and simple it's the modern version of a duel of honor.  It's stupid and potentially fatal.  Down through the centuries, males of the species seem to be particularly fond of this concept and females and children suffer the consequences.  Every minute a house fire burns it doubles in size so making me feel better than we have mutual aid with Malaga and Forest Grove doesn't cut it.  Particularly when I know that just the other week you went as mutual aid to house fire (along with other companies) in Franklin Township where the house burned to the ground anyway.  It makes the possibility all too real.    Please, please find another way.  Ultimatum threats not carried out may be bad parenting or appear  as 'weak' actions but ultimatums retracted in the interest of preventing harm to unintended parties are 'strong', honorable actions.

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