As the year drew to a close, the union-induced uproar in the city’s fire department got simpler and more complicated at the same time.
Before a city investigation into the conduct of an assistant chief could be concluded, that assistant chief resigned. But that was only the most headline-ready problem of personnel concerns that have run through the department for years.
Over the next four months, chief Joe Giver faces the significant challenge of addressing a barrage of criticism that appears to have mounted for more than a decade. In October, he agreed to a six-month performance improvement plan presented by the mayor, but if things don’t go well, it’s not clear what would result, as the Police and Fire Commission is in charge of hiring and firing.
Concerns raised by firefighters and other employees at the station included unprofessional behavior, lack of accountability, inconsistent leadership and retaliation for complaints. Giver, hired in 2009, when the department was still under the charge of the Verona Joint Fire District, told an investigator over the summer he hates dealing with uncomfortable personnel matters, and most everyone involved in the situation seems to agree confronting those uncomfortable situations will be necessary.
Among the requirements of Giver’s improvement plan are holding harassment and cultural sensitivity training, delegating more responsibilities, creating a more professional environment and updating policies. If he’s unable to reach those standards, the Common Council could ask him to resign.
Even if he does accomplish those goals, there could still be fallout from the investigation into assistant chief Don Catenacci’s behavior and allegations that he physically assaulted a fellow firefighter twice without repercussions. And it remains to be seen whether the union will follow through on its announced intention to file formal charges with the PFC.