New Fire Chief Must Commit To Upholding Promise That Additional Firefighters Would Not Be Needed

(LINCOLN, NE) – A few weeks ago, Mayor Beutler announced finalists for the position of Lincoln Fire Chief. As the hiring process continues, the Lincoln Independent Business Association would like to remind the Mayor that this administration’s actions related to fire department management and expansion will be watched closely throughout the coming year to ensure that taxpayers are not the losers in a drawn out political chess match. Whoever is hired for the position must be someone who will keep the city’s previous promise to the taxpayers regarding our staffing needs.

Our concern grows from another of Mayor Beutler’s recent press conferences outlining the administration’s top goals and priorities over the next year, during which he informed the community that we need to hire more firefighters. Mayor Beutler’s proclamation that the City of Lincoln must hire additional firefighters was met by serious disbelief from many of our members. Just a year ago, the Mayor went to the Lincoln City Council and Lincoln taxpayers asking them to approve an increase in the city sales tax to pay for updates to the city’s 9-1-1 system and the construction of four new fire stations. At the time, members of the Beutler administration repeatedly and unequivocally declared that although new fire stations would be constructed, no additional firefighters would need to be hired.[1] A little more than three months after the close of the polls, and after receiving the endorsement of the Lincoln Fire Fighters Association in that race,[2] Mayor Beutler now suggests that alleged “public safety challenges” require “increasing the number of firefighters.”[3] In support of this assertion, the Mayor cites rising numbers of medical and fire incidents “over the past decade.”[4]

It is puzzling and incredible that a need for additional firefighters based on the past ten years of statistics did not exist during the campaign for an increased city sales tax this year. The fact that this need arises so quickly after the Mayor’s reelection and on the heels of the fire union’s eleventh-hour endorsement suggests the Mayor was dishonest with voters and the citizens of Lincoln, and the public should be outraged.

As the administration works to address a number of changes in the Lincoln Fire Department related to its leadership and begins the construction of new fire stations, the Mayor’s proposal for the hiring of additional firefighters at direct cost to the taxpayers will not go unchallenged. LIBA voiced support for the recent sales tax initiative based in part on the assurances of the administration that no new firefighters would be needed. These types of political games where elected officials hide the ball to ensure reelection at taxpayers’ expense are not what Nebraska politics is about. Lincoln taxpayers deserve better.

[1] See, e.g., City sales tax increase idea gains traction. Nancy Hicks, The Lincoln Journal Star, November 14, 2014, available online at http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/city-sales-tax-increase-idea-gains-traction/article_580b8140-779f-581e-b89a-88a336de5728.html (“The move [to build four new fire stations] would require no additional staff according to current plans.”).

[2] Lincoln firefighters endorse Beutler. Mara Klecker, The Lincoln Journal Star, April 4, 2015, available online at http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/lincoln-firefighters-endorse-beutler/article_42f4281d-1f8c-56d2-bc76-c66beca2d1be.html.

[3] Mayor Outlines Goals for Coming Year. City of Lincoln Mayor’s Office Press Release, August 6, 2015, available online at http://lincoln.ne.gov/City/mayor/media/2015/080615.htm.

[4] See Hicks, supra at Note 1; see also video of Mayor’s Press Conference dated August 6, 2015, available online at http://lincoln.ne.gov/aspx/city/vod.aspx?vod=news%20conferences/news_issues%20of%202015.mov (approximate time stamp of 25:06).