Monday, May 7, 2012
The Wichita Fire Department administration has been under intense scrutiny for several years. Last week, City Manager Robert Layton came out in support of Chief Ron Blackwell and his top two subordinates. Part of that support may be in the numbers.
The local fire labor union reported last week that 94 percent of their membership voted no confidence in their leader and 97 percent voted the same lack of confidence in Deputy Chief Ron Aaron and Safety/Training Chief Billy Wenzel.
"The members wanted their voice heard," said IAFF Local 135 President Matt Schulte. "And that's the only way we could do it was by holding this vote."
But how do the numbers represent the department as a whole? Of the department's 420 total members, 350 of them are union members. About 67 percent of the membership voted, which translates into 234 union members who voted. 227 of those voted no confidence for Ron Aaron and Billy Wenzel. That represents only 54 percent of the department as a whole.
Two hundred twenty members voted no confidence in Chief Blackwell, but that only translates to 52 percent of the department as a whole.
Meanwhile, when 58 percent of the union membership voted no confidence in Fire Marshal Brad Crisp. That only translates into 32 percent of the department as a whole.
Schulte believes the city manager's request to have Chief Blackwell visit the rank-and-file at their stations may not do much good.
"I tell them to be respectful," he said. "They should ask the pointed questions, but do it respectfully. Don't attack the chief. Other than that, they're telling me they're not going to answer his questions."
One thing is for certain, this fire union heavily endorses Interim Deputy Chief Tammy Snow, who many wonder why she hasn't been promoted to Deputy Chief in the three months she's held the interim title.
"If you look at all the facts, and that's all we've tried to do is put the facts out there, then it's hard to say that we're just whining," Schulte said.
Chief Ron Blackwell has not returned any of our attempts to contact him over the last week.