Watson: Override of Wilmington Fire Dept. veto is unlikely

 Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams signs his veto of fire Dept. cuts.(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams signs his veto of fire Dept. cuts.(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

NewsWorks’ contributor John Watson weighs in on debate regarding proposed cuts to the Wilmington Fire Dept. 

Here are John’s thoughts:

Every time there is a controversy within a department of the City of Wilmington, we find Councilwoman Loretta Walsh among the first of those to criticize the department head, who in all likelihood knows more about the issue than she does.

The News Journal reported that Walsh criticized a blog written by Wilmington Fire Dept. Chief Anthony Goode in which he voiced concerns about proposed budget cuts to the WFD by city council.

Goode was accused of being threatening in his blog when he explained that “we will be forced to consider reduced coverage” to city residents.

Quote Unquote. Tough words. Telling it like it is. That’s not a threat in my book.

Walsh said that Goode appeared to be threatening residents. The News Journal reported that City Council President Theo Gregory called Goode’s comments “asinine.”

Councilwoman Maria Cabrea said that she initially interpreted the blog post as being a threat.

“Now I see there’s still an implication that there will be reduced services in those districts,” Cabrea said. “Maybe it wasn’t meant as a threat, but every time you read it, it was regarded as a threat.”

Threat or no threat, on July 10th, city council approved $511,000 in cuts to the WFD.

I’m told that Maria voted to retain the funding for the WFD.

A fight on our hands

Now, we have a fight on our hands between Mayor Dennis Williams, who vetoed the ordinance, and Gregory, who might get the nine votes needed to override Williams’ veto.

He says he might get 10. I don’t know about you, but I doubt it.

At this point, Gregory is ready to fight what I think is a losing game. The News Journal reported that he said some members of city council realize that no city department can be overlooked as the city tries to check its spending.

However, he reminded us of the controversial Berkshire study from 2012 that originally recommended the fire dept. cuts.

Gregory explained that the porposal was “shovel ready,” despite the mayor repeated refusals to implement the study’s findings.

Well Mr. Gregory, this is not 2012 – it’s almost 2015 – and that’s what you should consider when voicing your mistaken point of view. Time has a way of changing things.

‘We always do our job’

So as we sit and wait to see what city council will do in trying to override Williams’ veto, let’s take a look at some of Goode’s specific concerns.

In his blog, Goode noted that four fire engines would be subject to temporary closure when the WFD hits its overtime limits. He also listed the coverage area of each engine.

I ask you, how could that be a threat? It’s important information about the potential impacts of the budget cuts.

What happens if each fire district has its own problems and can’t send any of its firefighters to help, and then someone in your house dies for lack of firefighters? If that happens, who do you blame?

It can’t be the mayor. He vetoed the funding cuts.

What will Gregory say if he wins and council overrides the veto, and we then have accidents because the WFD doesn’t have sufficient personnel?

It will be too late to say, “I’m sorry.”

Michael Morgan, vice-president of the local firefighter’s union, fully supports Goode, saying, “I guarantee he wasn’t trying to make a threat that there was going to be any kind of reduced service. That’s not how we operate. We’ve had cuts before, and we always do our job. It don’t matter.”

I hope that Morgan is correct, but I think it does matter.

I’m convinced that city council will not be able to override the veto, but what can Wilmington residents do to ensure this?

Get on the phone and call your councilperson. Put some pressure on those who voted against those needed funds and those who could override the existing veto.

I don’t think the override will go into effect, but you shouldn’t take things for granted. All too often we do that in this county: We sit and wait on Election Day, don’t vote, and then criticize the outcome.

Just remember this: If you don’t vote, you and your point of view don’t count.

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