(Update: Board statement, union letter to board, more on issues)
LA PINE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The La Pine Rural Fire District’s monthly board meeting Thursday was filled with firefighters and concerned community members, hoping to talk about Fire Chief Michael Supkis and what the firefighters' union says are serious issues that should lead to his departure, one way or another.
Kevin Leehmann is the president of the Local 3387 La Pine Firefighters Union.
“Everybody seems to agree that it’s time for the chief to move on, or the board let him go,” Leehman said.
He and the union sent a letter to the board, asking for a vote of no confidence for Supkis, due to issues with the collective bargaining agreement (talks have stalled on a new contact), the chief's behavior and leadership tendencies, time off and several other grievances.
The union also said they are preparing to file two unfair labor practice actions against the district and several grievances involving refusal to grant compensatory time off.
“One of the worst things I ever hear my chief say is, ‘Let's let the lawyers figure it out’,” Leehmann said. “We don’t need lawyers to run this department -- if we did, we should just hire one as a fire chief.”
Leehmann said they’ve lost 20% of the department, either to retirement or other opportunities, but the issues with the chief and the contract were at the forefront.
He said five La Pine firefighters resigned for jobs with the Redmond fire agency in part due to his denial of compensatory time off. Two others decided to retire.
“Most of those people didn’t want to leave, but they found themselves in a position (where) they needed to,” Leehmann said.
With some firefighters working 48-hour shifts, the union called for Supkis to resign.
“We’ve reached a point with our chief that we feel like we can no longer continue to be ignored," Leehmann told the board during the meeting.
"I’ve been ignored. I’ve been lied to. I’ve seen it happen to our previous union members," he said. "Those seven members that left, I can’t just shut the door on -- 'Okay.' They left for a reason,” Leehmann said.
Fire District Board Director Doug Cox told Leehman: “Okay look -- let’s just kill it right now, this is not the time or place to do it.”
Cox and several other board members said they were not interested in discussing the union's letter during the public meeting.
“When I was a firefighter, when I had a problem, I ran a chain of command," Cox said. "Chain of command doesn’t seem to work sometimes, I agree with that. But until we have our executive session and work this out as a board, thank you very much for your attendance.”
Leehmann said he only sees one way for this to end.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to change until the chief resigns,” Leehmann said.
Chief Mike Supkis declined to comment Thursday.
The fire board posted a brief statement on their website:
La Pine Rural Fire Protection Board appreciates the recent concerns expressed by the Firefighters Local #3387 Union and the public. Because we are in contract negotiations, it is not appropriate for us to comment at this time. We support our Fire Chief and Administration. We look forward to meeting with the Firefighters Local #3387 Union to further discuss their concerns.
Here's the letter sent to the fire board:
Lapine Fire District board members,
The La Pine Professional Firefighters Association Local 3387 has unanimously voted and is asking for a vote of no confidence concerning the Fire Chief of the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District.
The Union is at a point it can no longer allow him to ignore our CBA, requests to bargain, and attempts to add directives as an attempt to circumvent CBA language.
The grievances against his position include and are not limited to the following:
- Lack of sufficient certifications filed with the fire district as well as the Department of Public Safety, Standards, and Training, showing you're qualified for the position of Fire Chief.
- Lack of due regard for state law as well as the current collective bargaining agreement. Which has resulted in the Union preparing to file 2 unfair labor practice suits against the district, and over 8 grievances against compensatory time off.
- Lack of leadership and communication skills which has resulted in seven members leaving the fire districts service, two of which left at great financial hardship to themselves.
- Loss of support for the continued lawsuit over SCMC, and loss of funds. Members have felt it is not a good use of funding to spend monies on battling a regional hospital.
- Creating undue safety and mutual aid issues for union members and citizens by not following the County switch over and radio changes.
- Behavior unbecoming of your current title and position. Witnessed events of temper tantrums and verbal threats towards members to withhold benefits. Lying and placing blame.
- Creating undue hardship for district members during a time of personal loss.
- It is the belief of the local 3387 that your stonewalling, and threatening tactics have delayed the district's ability to recover from its current state.
He has lost the respect of the employees of the fire district as well as the ability to lead them. There have been multiple warnings from current, and past employees that he has ignored.