Who's in charge of contract?

Published March 3, 2007

SPRING HILL - Hernando County lawyers are expected to meet with the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District attorney next week to sort out who's in charge of approving the firefighters union contract.

This comes a day after Fire District officials and Local 2794 leaders walked out of a negotiation meeting with Human Resources Director Barbara Dupre after questioning their role in the talks.

According to County Administrator Gary Kuhl, the county legal department believes that county commissioners will give final approval of the contract, rather than the fire board.

The opinion is based on interpretations of a 2005 ordinance passed by the county, Kuhl said, which reiterates that the Fire District is county-dependent. Attorneys are currently working on a more formal written opinion.

When Kuhl notified Fire Chief J.J. Morrison of this just before a Wednesday night board meeting - after which board members held an executive session - Fire District attorney Andy Salzman decided that it was not proper for both he and Morrison to sit at the negotiating table on behalf of the county.

After Salzman said that, Local 2794 President Troy Hagar and Vice-President Scott Edmisten left, saying their contract was exclusively with Spring Hill Fire - and not the county.

That ended talks with Dupre shortly after the 9:30 a.m. meeting began, and has temporarily suspended union negotiations. The current three-year contract expires Sept. 30.

"I won't negotiate with the county because I don't negotiate with the county," Morrison said Friday. "Either my board negotiates with the union or if the county feels that they're the ones that sign the contract, they negotiate."

Morrison added that he reminded Kuhl of a previous County Commission meeting where that very topic was discussed.

"He said that they were going to send someone from human resources to help out, but that Spring Hill Fire Rescue will do its own negotiations," Morrison said.

The fire chief said that he did not leave the negotiation table Thursday, but instead continued to speak to Dupre. He said he also later talked further with her in his office about other human resources matters at the department.

Dupre said she remembers everyone leaving the negotiating room - except the service dog she is training and had brought along to the meeting.

"Yes we talked about another matter and later went into (Morrison's office), but I was still wondering what was going on with what we were there for," Dupre said. "I was shocked."

Morrison said Friday he wants to work on finding a solution to the problem that works for everyone.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.