Gira first took the board to task for not getting a response to two questions she submitted in writing before Tuesday night’s meeting, per the district board’s preferred process. In June, the board put in a policy asking for at least a 48-hour notice on questions so trustees could prepare answers.
“You speak of transparency in government, at the same time we have to submit questions in advance at least two days and you refuse any public conversation at a meeting,” Gira said during the meeting. “This is like attending a church service.”
Gira had expressed concern over talks about closing Fire Station 6 in the southwest part of Orland Park, and other mentions of outsourcing ambulance service. In her submission, she asked if there were any talks of making either of the two changes. Board president James Hickey later said that district staff did not receive Gira’s two questions.
“Certainly you don’t have all the answers to all the questions and I don’t expect you to. We certainly don’t down the street,” Gira said during the meeting. “But if we don’t we can admit that we don’t and ask staff to do the research and get back to whoever that is in a public forum. Not in an individual conversation where you are required to attend the following meeting to get that answer.”
During the meeting Hickey thanked Gira for her comments but didn’t respond to any of her questions. Later he told reporters there was talk about closing the station and other ways to cut costs, but that neither he, nor the board members, is in favor of any service cuts.
“In government you speak of all kinds of different situations,” Hickey said after the meeting, to reporters. “Does it mean we’re going to take action on it? No. My thinking is any citizen can look at our budget and say if something doesn’t get fixed, yes we are going to have problems. We only abated $1.3 million in taxes. If our current contract salary increases keep going up by $600,000, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out pretty soon you won’t have any money left.”
Hickey also suggested Gira’s comments were “political” and stemming from a “different agenda,” though he didn’t specify further.
Trustee Blair Rhode said with ongoing contract negotiations happening, it isn't appropriate to answer questions that pertain to those decisions, especially before any decision is made.
"I understand her concerns, but it's tough to answer certain questions right now while we're in negotiations," Rhode said.
Gira also suggested that the board’s 5 p.m. start time for meetings is “pointed at discouraging attendance.” While the board was in closed session, Gira described her experiences at the last two fire board meetings as “offensive.”
Hickey said the earlier start time is to leave a window wide enough to accommodate a month of business, since the board only meets once a month.
“If I can make it and I have four kids, and they’re in all kinds of activities and I work a full time job, if I can make it anyone can make it,” Hickey said. “We like people to come. We like input that’s not politically motivated.”
Chief and New Firefighters Still on Hold
Board trustees have submitted their choices for the final three Orland Fire Chief candidates. The three finalists will go through another round of interviewing before one is chosen for the job. Raymond Kay, who has served as acting chief for about a year, is in the running.
As for the three firefighter positions that money was set aside for in the 2012 budget, Hickey said any of those hires will likely wait until after the next firefighter contract has been finalized between the board and firefighter union.
“That’s really the aspect that’s holding us back from hiring,” Hickey said about contract negotiations. “Our attorneys are comparing all the different fire departments and districts just to have a good fair wage for a fair day’s work.”