Only on 12: Augusta administrator takes heat for 'screwing up' firefighter sick time, blames 'mistake'

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, July 16, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- City leaders are taking heat for "screwing up" firefighters' sick time. The city administrator admits they made a mistake, and hundreds of local firefighters are paying for it.

We got our hands on check after check that shows commissioners voted to effectively reduce the amount of sick time for firefighters. But it was a "mistake" the Firefighters Association is now demanding to be fixed.

"We are going to get our sick time back," said Charles Masters, president of the Firefighters Association. "I don't mind fighting."

"They stole from the firefighters," cried an irate Masters. "There is no gray area here."

The issue centers around the number of hours and sick leave firefighters accrue each pay check. The hours were reduced from 5.31 to 3.69 and even zero for some as a result of the new personnel policy manual. Those numbers are similar to the rate of a regular employee. The only problem is that one day for a firefighter amounts to 24 hours.

"You feel bad about it," said City Administrator Fred Russell, who considers the change is a simple oversight in the new personnel policy manual. "It is never done on purpose."

"They reduced them to 3.69 hours," Masters said. "That is huge. That is two hours a pay check."

The city promised a fix back in December 2011.

"We got an administration that don't give a damn about public safety," declared Masters. "That's what we have."

The hours have since been updated, but Fire Chief Chris James is formally requesting the lost sick time be restored for the firefighters.

"The mistake is on the part of staff," Russell said. "We made a mistake. Not the commission. The commission has helped us fix that."

Russell says they can't just give back the sick time because it would be considered a gratuity. The administrative services committee is recommending increasing the level accrued to 6.93 hours per pay period for nine months. On April 1, 2013 sick leave hours will revert back to 5.31 hours per pay period. They will take up the topic at the next committee meeting.


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