The Laramie City Council had a big decision to make at the end of its city council meeting on Dec. 18, choosing between adding to the Fire Department budget, costing residents more money, or not adding to the budget and having to demote firemen.
The City Council voted to approve the budget amendment to add a fifth fire division chief, totaling in $127,165 for salary and benefits.
Councilman Bryan Shuster, the only council member to vote “no” on the budget amendment, said no matter what the Council chose, someone would be disappointed.
“The people are going to pay for this,” Shuster said during the meeting. “Depending on which one passes, will it be fire fighters or the citizens of Laramie that have to come up with additional funds? It’s one of these where we’re damned if we go one way and we’re damned if we go the other way.”
City Attorney Bob Southard said during the meeting the city has been in a years-long legal process with Brett Vance, a fire division chief who was terminated from the Laramie Fire Department in 2012 after failing a standard random drug test for cocaine in 2010 and for having a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.02 and 0.016 in the same work day in 2012.
Southard said Vance appealed the decision to terminate with the Civil Services Commission — a voluntary city board that approves LFD hires and terminations as lined out in state statute. After a “middle ground punishment” of suspension without pay was struck down by District Court Judge Jeffery Donnell, Southard said the Civil Services Commission had another hearing in 2014 and determined the evidence used to terminate Vance was not “sufficient and established.”
“In their estimation, the reliability of the Blood Alcohol Content test was not reliable and therefore said that he could not be terminated,” Southard said during the meeting.
The city appealed the decision in the District Court, Southard added, and the District Court upheld the findings of the BAC test. The Civil Services Commission met again and determined the termination of Vance was “sufficient and established and confirmed,” Southard said during the meeting.
Southard added Vance again appealed the decision, this time to the Wyoming Supreme Court. The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the city had no right to appeal the Civil Service Commission’s second decision to the District Court, and the Supreme Court didn’t have the jurisdiction to decide anything, Southard said.
“The second decision of the Civil Service Commission therefore stood,” Southard said during the meeting. “That second decision was the decision where the Civil Service Commission had determined that the blood alcohol content tests were unreliable.”
During the legal disputes, Vance had voluntarily retired from his position at LFD, and Southard said in 2016 and 2017 Vance began the process to go through the qualifications to start work again. Southard added litigation is still pending about items such as back pay. Despite this, the city determined Vance met all the qualifications and brought him back to work in November, Southard said during the meeting.
Prior to this agenda item the City Council had taken a brief pause into executive session to talk about litigation. Councilman Pat Gabriel wanted to ask a question relating to the executive session, but Mayor Andi Summerville warned him not to divulge anything from the session. Gabriel rephrased his question, asking if Laramie Fire Chief Dan Johnson knew of any other fire department personnel potentially leaving the department soon.
“I’ve been informed that we’ve had two members receive conditional job offers in another department,” Johnson said. “They have a process to go through, so no resignations have been tendered yet, but I believe there will be movement in our department if those go through.”
Gabriel asked during the meeting if the vote could be postponed to see if any vacancies occur in the next few weeks, but Johnson said during the meeting the money saved from the potentially vacated lower-level fire fighter positions would not be enough to offset Vance’s salary.
Councilman Klaus Hanson asked if Vance himself could be demoted, and Southard said during the meeting the city’s hands were tied; since he was terminated from the division chief position, he had to be reinstated at the same position.