Firefighters committee's plans attract scrutiny

Their partisan political activities are restricted under civil service law.
BOARDMAN -- Township firefighters have formed a political action committee and plan to interview trustee candidates next week.
"We're trying to become more involved in politics in the township," said Jim Hoover, president of Boardman Firefighters Local 1176 and a member of the PAC, which formed about six months ago.
"The trustees are the people who sign our checks and the people who appoint department heads," Hoover said. "They are our employer, and we'd like to learn about each candidate to make informed decisions."
The committee sent letters to each of the six candidates who filed to run for the two trustee seats on the November ballot.
The township civil service commission met earlier this month and referred the issue of the candidate forum to the Mahoning County prosecutor's office.
Larry Saxton, who heads the commission, said members discussed the issue in executive session, so he couldn't talk about it.
"It has to do with whether it's a violation of Boardman's civil service rules and regulations," he said.
The firefighters are civil service employees whose partisan political activities are restricted under civil service law.
After receiving a response from the prosecutor's office, the commission will determine if any action is warranted, Saxton said.
PAC's situation
Hoover said he was unaware of the civil service commission's concerns.
He acknowledged restrictions on partisan political activity for civil service employees but said the PAC was established in working with the state firefighters association to ensure they followed required procedures.
The letter sent to candidates said that the PAC intends to "support candidates whom we feel will do the most to benefit our community by public endorsement and possible financial and physical campaign contributions."
Hoover said those are possibilities, but the committee could choose not to endorse or contribute to any of the candidates.
Six firefighters, representing the different shifts, comprise the PAC. The candidate forum will be before PAC members who will communicate pertinent information gleaned from the questioning to union members at a subsequent meeting.
The letter lists questions that concern PAC members, including what can be done to control escalating health care costs, adequate staffing levels for safety services, and candidate views on the most serious problem with and the best thing about the township.

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