Following a September that saw a member of the Conway Fire Department file a lawsuit against the city for failing to address employee pay raises over the past four years, the Conway Firefighters Association has officially endorsed challenger Mark Elsinger for mayor.
Conway Mayor Tab Townsell is running for his fourth term and has served as mayor since 1998. He has two challengers, Elsinger and Randy Herrold. Townsell actively campaigned for the tax rededication package earlier in 2012, which passed easily, and which was orchestrated to supply the fire, police and sanitation departments with new vehicles and create a general fund reserve. Townsell pointed out that raises were not part of this recent rededication but agreed that they needed to be focused on in the future.
Damon Reed, President of the Conway Firefighters Local 4016, is one of two city employees who sued the city, alleging that the city had "unlawful use and allocation of money derived from a voluntary salary improvement tax for purposes other than for which it was collected." It also contains a class action complaint for breach of contract "for hundreds of general and street fund employees."
The firefighters organization endorsed Elsinger saying he has "committed to the fire fighters that (he) will place public safety as a high priority in the City of Conway."
According to the organization, the Conway Fire Department provides fire protection to the city utilizing seven engines, two ladder trucks, and one heavy rescue truck. Two engines, both ladder trucks, and the rescue are only staffed with two firefighters. The other five engines are staffed with three firefighters. Four firefighters per fire truck is the nationally recommend minimum staffing, per the National Fire Protection Association.
Turnover has been a problem within the fire department, said Conway Fire Chief Bart Castleberry during a discussion about the rededication package. Some believe the inability to provide raises in recent years has caused some to look for work in Pulaski County.
"[Conway] attracted quality applicants but did not pay them in the way that they had promised," said Russell Wood of Wood Law Firm, the attorneys representing Reed and Conway Police Officer Richard Shumate, Jr. "There are some officers in Step 2 that should be in Step 6."
Wood said the city instituted a "step program" to entice better applicants for city jobs. The program showed each employee what they would make after a certain amount of time with each department. A resolution was signed in 2001 by Townsell which stated that a quarter-cent sales tax to be voted on the following month "shall be expended exclusively to improve the salaries of those employees of the city whose current salaries are determined by the city council to be under the proper ‘market pay scales’ for similar positions in similar cities in Arkansas."