Just hours after Fire Chief James S. Clack permanently disbanded two Baltimore City fire companies, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the Board of Estimates to approve a new six-year contract for him.
The agenda for Wednesday’s board meeting shows that the panel will be asked by the mayor to amend an employment agreement with Clack to let him continue as Baltimore’s fire chief through July 1, 2018.
Clack was appointed in 2008 by then-Mayor Sheila Dixon, but he did not have a formal contract with the city until August 2010 after Rawlings-Blake became mayor.
Because Rawlings-Blake controls the five-member spending board, Clack’s reappointment on Wednesday is virtually assured. Clack’s reappointment will come before the City Council for approval, but his nomination has not yet been submitted by the mayor’s office.
Salary Increases through 2018
Under the terms of the new agreement, Clack will receive a pay raise this January, hiking his current salary of $161,262 a year to $164,487.
His salary will then “incrementally increase every January 1 thereafter through January 1, 2018,” according to the board’s agenda.
Wages for Baltimore firefighters are frozen for fiscal year 2013 under an agreement ratified by the Fire Officers Association Local 964 and Fire Fighters Association 734.
As with other city employees, firefighters’ health-care premiums will increase this year under a “reform” health benefits package pushed by Rawlings-Blake and approved by the City Council.
Clack’s new contract stipulates that “if the Mayor is elected to a new term [in 2016] and chooses to reappoint Mr. Clack as Fire Chief, Mr. Clack will be entitled to a continuation of the benefits provided . . . unless a modification of this contract is executed.”
Backlash to Fire Closings
Clack’s determination to close three fire companies – some say at the mayor’s orders – has sparked a great deal of criticism. After two delays triggered by a general state of emergency declared by Rawlings-Blake, Truck Company 15 and Squad 11 were permanently disbanded at 7 a.m. this morning
A third company, Truck 10 serving Harlem Park, will be shut down on October 1.
Clack has argued that the closures will improve department response times because it will end the practice of rotating station house closures.
His decision to close the three companies has produced a heavy backlash among firefighters and their union leaders. A petition drive solicited 2,000 signatures by residents against the closing of Truck 15 in East Baltimore, which is by far the busiest truck company in the city.
There have been other controversies involving the fire chief’s priorities. He has been faulted for reinstating the post of assistant chief for administration (which had been vacant because of budget pressures), and for increasing the pay of his two deputies, each of whom got a $11,000 pay raise this year.
Other criticism comes from his tripling of the budget of FECO (Fire and Emergency Community Outreach), which some firefighters denounce as “window dressing” that should not have priority over core firefighting.
Skips Steiner Show
In the world of City Hall politics, he has gained a reputation as a no-show, failing to appear in May at a City Council hearing without explanation. The non-appearance sparked an angry response by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Warren Branch, chairman of the public safety committee.
Today, Chief Clack ducked out – for the third time – from an appearance on the “Marc Steiner Show” on public radio station WEAA-FM.
A Steiner producer said that fire department spokesman, Kevin Cartwright, told him that “due to the atmosphere of hostility because of the company closings, [Chief Clack] will not join [the show] at this time.”
In a separate e-mail to host Marc Steiner, Cartwright said, “We appreciate the opportunity and invitation to appear on your show; however due to the sensitive nature of other ongoing internal matters warranting our undivided attention, we need to defer until a more convenient time.”
Rawlings-Blake Commends his Leadership
None of these issues was raised in the written request by the mayor’s office for Clack’s six-year reappointment.
According to the mayor’s statement to the Board of Estimates, “Mr. Clack has been effectively carrying out this duties of Fire Chief of Baltimore City. Under his leadership, the Fire Department now has two Medic Assist Cars, has implemented the Operation Care Program and is moving the department to a new Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) System.”
“Additionally,” the mayor’s office said, “there was a record 44% reduction in fire-related deaths and a 50% savings in overtime costs in FY09.”
The mayor’s office also offered this example of Clack’s national reputation:
“In June 2010, the International Association of Fire Chiefs submitted Mr. Clack’s name as one of seven nominations to President Obama for the position of U.S. Fire Administrator. This nomination is yet another testament of Chief Clack’s experience and leadership in the field of emergency and fire response.”