I t is a question of fairness. At least that's how one York City firefighter sees it. Probably more than one, if you were to take a poll.
And if you did take a poll, you'd probably learn that more than a few York City firefighters are of the belief that York City Mayor Kim Bracey has gone out of her way to nurture a working relationship with the police department, while hanging the firefighters out to dry in matters of budgeting, overtime pay and work environment.
Mayor Bracey would deny that, of course.
But the bone of contention does exist.
That, however, was not the reason the York City firefighter called me on Monday. He did not complain about his fire department's relationship with the mayor or her relationship with the police department.
He did not even grumble about the mayor's negotiations with York Area United Fire and Rescue about a possible merger of fire services. If that's an issue, he didn't raise it.
His reason for calling had to do with "fairness" and nothing more. That's what he said.
He referred to the report in Monday's York Dispatch that Mayor Bracey had chosen David Michaels to replace Steve Buffington as the chief of the York City Fire Department. Buffington announced recently his intention to retire after 30 years of service to the city.
But Bracey is only naming Michaels to the post as an "acting chief."
Why? Well, Bracey pointed out that Michaels does not live in York City. That's a problem. The city's residency requirement would require Michaels to move into the city to be named permanent "chief," Bracey said.
This is not the first time Mayor Bracey has rubbed up against the confines of the city's residency rule. The firefighter on the telephone reminded me "the same exact situation" existed two years ago, when one of Bracey's first orders of business after being elected mayor was to name Wes Kahley as the "acting" police chief, to replace city police Commissioner Mark Whitman, who chose to retire.
And Kahley didn't live in the city, either. Nor did he want to move into the city.
As "acting" chief, the residency requirement didn't apply to Kahley. But a permanent "chief" would need to live in the city.
During Kahley's 90-day stint as "acting" chief of police, Mayor Bracey was busy working behind the scenes to do away with the residency rule.
A year ago, York City Council announced it would be considering the reversal of the policy that required the city's rank-and-file employees to live inside city limits. Councilwoman Renee Nelson said she'd introduce legislation that would repeal the 1994 law that mandated city government workers would keep a residence -- "the actual domicile where the employee normally eats and sleeps and maintains a normal household" -- inside York's 5.5 square miles.
The reason for the discussion, of course, was the expectation that Bracey was going to seek a residency waiver from council so Kahley could take the job of permanent police chief.
Waivers were allowed for department directors, but not rank-and-file workers.
So there, again, was the question of fairness. Then-council president Genevieve Ray pondered the legitimacy of "giving waivers to certain classes of people," but not others. "How do you justify that? Can that be justified?"
Apparently it could, because Bracey named Kahley the police chief. A few weeks later, his selection was approved by city council, which also gave the necessary residency waiver.
"The mayor, elected officials and appointed officials need to be city residents," Bracey said. But there are "common-sense" exceptions, she added.
And Kahley was one.
It hasn't been all that long ago -- 1996 to be exact -- that the city's chief of police, Russell Clanagan, was fired by then-Mayor Charlie Robertson because he wouldn't live in the city.
So it's gone both ways.
City workers clearly opposed the residency ordinance last year. City taxpayers, however, seemed to want it, saying it wasn't too much to expect for city workers to live and pay taxes where they work.
A little more than a year ago, York City Council voted to repeal the residency requirement for rank-and-file employees. What was good for the goose was also good for the gander, it suggested by its vote.
Mayor Bracey vetoed that decision.
But now it's raised its ugly head again -- David Michaels, the "acting" fire chief, who lives outside the city.
So if Bracey really wants Michaels to be the permanent chief, she'll have to seek another waiver from city council.
Meanwhile, she'll negotiate a merger of the fire department with York Area United Fire and Rescue, a regional fire service that already includes Springettsbury and Spring Garden fire departments and several volunteer services. Manchester Township is considering a merger with York Area United, as well.
So why not York City?
Maybe Mayor Bracey is just keeping her options open during the negotiations with York Area United, since it already has a fire chief in place. She might not want to muddy the waters with a dispute over competing fire chiefs.
I can understand that.
Still, the calling firefighter said, city firefighters believe it could take months, maybe years, to agree on a merger of fire services. It might never happen. The mayor pushed for permanent status for Chief of Police Kahley from the day she took office in 2010, and firefighters expect the same for their own chief.
It's a question of fairness, he said.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: email@example.com.