STRUTHERS Judge prepares to rule on firefighter staffing issue
The mayor says there's no money to hire another firefighter.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A ruling is pending in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on whether Struthers Mayor Daniel Mamula must immediately appoint Robert Baron to fill a firefighter position.
Magistrate Timothy G. Welsh heard arguments Wednesday from the city and from Baron's lawyer, Dennis Haines, on a request to compel Mamula to fill the vacancy with Baron.
After the hearing, Welsh gave the city 10 days to submit a brief, and Haines seven days to respond.
Welsh held the hearing because Judge James C. Evans issued an order in January requiring Mamula to select a candidate from the city's current civil service eligibility list forthe firefighter position or show cause why he had not.
Baron at top of list
Haines argues that state law is clear: Mamula must immediately fill the position from the city's civil service commission's eligibility list, and Baron, of Sexton Street, tops that list.
Haines said city ordinance says the city fire department "shall be composed of one fire chief and 11 engineers [firefighters]."
Haines argued that Baron should have been appointed when firefighter John Walsh retired in October 2004, since, under civil service law, the person receiving the highest score on the competitive exam is placed first on the eligibility list, and the person first on that list shall be appointed in case of a vacancy.
Baron took the test in 2003 and has the highest score.
Eligibility lists continue for two years.
The law requires the vacancy to be filled within a period of not more than 10 days, Haines said.
Mamula said he didn't appoint Baron for two reasons. The city was and still is having budgetary problems, he said, so the city couldn't afford to replace Walsh.
Secondly, the mayor said he interpreted the civil service law as saying he could appoint any of the top 10 people who passed the test, and he wasn't restricted to just selecting Baron.
The mayor said the temporary budget which the council passed last year has enough money for only eight firefighters.
City law director Carol Clemente Wagner said the fire department has never worked under a minimum mandatory staffing requirement.
The mayor said until a final 2005 appropriation is in place, the city wouldn't know whether the firefighter position would be filled.
Haines, however, said the law provides for layoffs and eliminating positions. Haines said the mayor can made the appointment and then lay off personnel, but the appointment needed to be made.