San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 18th, 2010
Commentary: Thomaides ‘impairing the trust between firefighters and their city government’

by HOWIE MINOR

One of a city’s greatest responsibilities is to ensure the public safety through essential services such as the fire department. As the events of 9/11 so clearly demonstrated, firefighters risk their lives on a daily basis to protect our citizens.

The key to maintaining a top-quality fire department is recruiting and retaining skilled firefighters with a passion for their work. This can only be done when salaries are competitive and firefighters can trust their city government.

In my 20 years as a San Marcos firefighter, I have never questioned the loyalty of any city official toward firefighters. However, my fellow firefighters and I are greatly troubled by the recent statements of former councilman and mayoral candidate John Thomaides.

In interviews and advertising, Mr. Thomaides attacks the current salaries of firefighters and the process through which they were set. These attacks are factually inaccurate and deserve correction.

Prior to the current budget year, the city council unanimously established a new process for setting salaries in the fire department called “meet and confer.”

Under meet and confer, the city council budgets a set amount of money for firefighter salaries and the firefighters association structures its salaries within that budget.

As a councilman, Mr. Thomaides supported the amount that the city council budgeted for fire department salaries. Now, as a mayoral candidate, he is attacking the salaries as too high.

To set the record straight, our association structured its salaries based on a study of ten peer cities. We made our salary for a position equal to the median salary for the same position across these ten cities.

Because our firefighters had been paid less than the ten-city median, they were awarded an average annual raise of 1.5 percent over the next three years (0% in year one, and 2.25 percent in years two and three), and adjustments were made to longevity pay.

Mr. Thomaides wrongly claims that firefighters will receive an average raise of $19,500. This is false and based on a misreading of the city budget.

The cost of maintaining a fire department increases every year because we have a growing city. Last year, the city council created nine new positions in the fire department and restructured some of the department’s ranks.

Mr. Thomaides would have you believe that the increased expense of running the fire department is due solely to pay raises in the new contract. This is simply not true.

Firefighters should not be treated like straw men by a political campaign. By doing so, Mr. Thomaides is impairing the trust between firefighters and their city government. When that happens, we risk losing our best and most skilled firefighters to other cities that treat firefighters with the dignity and respect that they deserve, and the quality of our department suffers.

That is not a matter of politics. That is a matter of lives, and a risk that our city cannot afford.

HOWIE MINOR is a 20-year veteran of the San Marcos Fire Department and the San Marcos Firefighters Association president.

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22 thoughts on “Commentary: Thomaides ‘impairing the trust between firefighters and their city government’

  1. I had originaly had planned an angry rebuttal but it isn’t worth my time. Mr. Minor’s agenda is obvious. The Police and Fire Fighters Unions will endorse Susan’s puppet, as we all expected. Nothing to see here, folks. The last dying gasp of a political regime.

  2. As I pointed out in one of my Local Government Watch columns in December, 2009, “police officers and firefighters in San Marcos are already among the highest-paid law enforcement and firefighting employees working at similarly-sized cities in Texas.” And this was before their 19% increase in salary. Howie Minor has an understandable slant on the issue of fire-fighter pay, but I notice that he did not give us the names of the ten “peer cities” used in the Firefighters Association’s calculations. That would help us judge better whether his slant is justified, or mere political cant in the service of his chosen candidate.

    To see the entire column, go to “http://smmercury.com/archives/11117”

  3. Lamar, I wish I had received a 19% salary increase in the contract. I might still be there. I think Howie showed their salary increases in his piece (0% year one, 2.25 for next two for a total of 4.5% if my math is correct). Help me understand why the “19%” pay raise keeps coming up. It seems everyone against the contracts, including yourself and especially John Thomaides, try to convince the public that every cop and fire fighter got a 19% pay raise. It is simply not true. Stop intentionally spreading mis-information. I expect more from someone of your caliber.

  4. Mr. Nichols, can you give us “the total dollar amount” each member of your union will get because of this three years contract?

  5. The way I read it was there were some incentive pay features in it. So some people with a degree got money and some didnt. So it would be hard to say everyone got the same amount. Someone with no incentives would not have the same amount as someone who got all the incentives. Longevity would be another one someone with 20 or more years and all the incentives would get more than someone with 2 years and no incentives.

    So you budget the money for the contract based on worst case, everyone manages to qualify for all the incentives plus the raise and you get 1.8 million worst case. Then you take that and divide by 95 police officers and you get that they got almost 19000 over 3 years. So at the and of three years when all of the money is not spent because there is no way all of them will qualify for every incentive the money goes back to the GF to be budgeted again.

    This is how you run the numbers to make then fit your agenda and your best buddy politicians use them everyday to change your mind. People will always tell you what you want to hear. Don’t fall for it people. Someone is always running for office when they are talking to you.

  6. He even brought up 9/11! Wow, to politicize and publicly pronounce your desire for a pay raise, how heroic you are sir.

    How many firefighters on staff reside in the city limits of San Marcos? I know that a number of peace officers choose to pay taxes and live in other communities. Is this so with the firefighters as well? Those of us who live here might be more willing to give a pay raise to our neighbors rather than someone who only comes to town for a paycheck.

  7. So that I don’t have to try to interpret someone’s interpretation of Thomaides’s interpretation, can someone point me to the quote where he said everyone was receiving a $19,000 raise, or a 19% raise? I can’t find it.

  8. Kenny P, thanks for the clarification. I’d still like to see the quote, if anyone has it. At least now I (sort of) know where the number comes from.

  9. Joseph Stalvern’s comment is just about typical of the John Thomaides camp — we are the Council of Learned Citizens and we know what’s best. We know what’s best to the degree that we don’t even have to rebut anything. We are entitled to run San Marcos. They should take note that the winds of change are stirring in San Marcos and people are waking up to the arrogance at City Hall as embodied by John Thomaides.

  10. Also re: Thomaides’s advertising, I can’t find his website. Don’t post a link here, but can anyone confirm whether he even has one, so I can stop looking (if he doesn’t)?

  11. Last time I checked you could live where you wanted. I know some of you who moved here from Houston worked there but lived elsewhere. What is the difference? Sounds like you are saying we don’t have enough police here.

    As for them wanting money what is wrong with that? You are a business owner you charge what you think you time and energy is worth. If a customer complains you don’t care because you call it the cost of doing business. If you don’t want some high school GED police officer handling your problems you are going to pay for it.

  12. I think the 20,000 and 19% were thrown around several online media sources during the contract negotiation. The people referring to it were known friends of someone on the city council at that time who is currently running for another office. The problem was they were putting out the information and writing about it at a time when the negotiations were still being conducted and no final public release had been sent out.

    Politics as usual bending the rules to make them fit your run at a different office. I predict a run at a state office next if this keeps up. They do it all the time in Austin.

  13. From what I understand and someone can correct me if I am wrong but this is how I understand it: Meet and Confer is nonbinding meaning the city does not have to do it. Collective Bargaining is binding and they have to do a contract.

    A contract is an agreement that benefits both parties.

    What I don’t understand is why someone does put in an article what the city got. If you are in a meet and confer you do not have to agree to anything. I would not agree to a contract if I didn’t get anything. WAKE UP AMERICA! The city got theirs but no one will mention it. Keep people in the dark that is how a person running for office controls you. Some of you are just someone’s pawns.

  14. I tried to find my notes from my column last December, but was not successful. I wrote then that the 9% increase over 3 years equals nearly $20,000 per person, which would mean more for some and less for others. That’s the best I can do and I realize it is not enough. There are people with the actual figures, but they don’t seem interested in getting specific..

  15. You want to be something you are not you are going to pay for it. So many of you wanted 2am and you got it. Now you have to deal the problems it creates. You need to pay the people who are now dealing with more rowdy people causing problems. You are also between two major cities and in a mobile society. Crooks don’t stay at home they leave Austin and San Antonio and come to smaller towns where they think it is an easy pick.

    It was just last year that people were getting shot right down the street from some areas you would have never thought would have that problem. I believe someone is in jail on all of those.

    It was just several years ago that most fires resulted in a total loss and our insurance rates were higher.

    Just like the saying if you lay down with dogs you get flees. You want to be like bigger cities you get bigger problems. Guess what they cost money to take care of.

  16. No matter how you figure it is fuzzy political math. Used to confuse people into believing that someone is more right then someone else. Vote for me I am right.

  17. I think that most of the central Texas cities around Austin are very similar in pay and they have to be. Being this close to Austin and being lumped into the Austin Metro Area you are going to see things priced similar to Austin. This is not just in police and fire pay but in other businesses as well. So why don’t we break with Austin and get in line with San Antonio? Their officers make much less then Austin and the cities of our size about SA pay their officers about the same. Wait it is closer for me to drive to Austin and make big bucks then SA and there are people willing to pay for it in Austin. Looks like we are stuck have to compare ourselves to Austin and pay the higher prices because they pay better in Austin. That is what is really driving this. Pay people less they will leave then all those college educated people leave and you can hire someone for 13 an hour. I wonder what kind of chip on his shoulder police officer you get for that. Everyone complains how bad the cops are now. Look out!

  18. If 9% over 3 years is correct then that was about what we were giving them without a contract about a 3% raise each year for cost of living and to stay competitive in the market. I am starting to believe someone is playing with the numbers as a part of politics. You are never given all of the information only the part they want you to be angry about.

  19. From the way I understand it, the fire fighters automatically receive steps which is like a raise which occurs on an annual basis but is automatic based on anniversery date. These amounts were compensation increases that the firefighters would receive on top of raises. Someone please correct me if I am wrong. I doubt Mr. Minor included that.

  20. Yes civil service police and fire depts all across the country have step raise programs. This is set up to keep the good old boy system in check. If they were not set up that way bubba’s best friend would be getting the raise every year and others would be left out. Of course you could do away with all of this and have bubba fight your fires and write your tickets.

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