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St. Louis firefighters union sues following mayor's appointment of interim personnel director

Firefighters Local 73 said the city commission violated city charter by allowing Mayor Tishaura Jones to appoint an interim personnel director.
Credit: UPI
St. Louis firefighters climb a hook and ladder truck to reach the roof during a two-alarm fire in St. Louis on Monday, April 19, 2021. Nearly 50 firefighters battled the fire which spread from one building to the next. One injury was reported. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis firefighters union has sued the City of St. Louis, Mayor Tishaura Jones and the Civil Service Commission, calling the mayor’s recent appointment of an interim personnel director a violation of the city’s charter that could cause them “irreparable harm."

Personnel Director Richard Frank resigned late last year due to medical reasons, and, per the city’s charter, an interim director was chosen from within the personnel division to serve until the mayor could appoint a permanent hire.

The Civil Service Commission met Feb. 4 and voted to allow the mayor to select an interim personnel director from outside the department and “with no minimum qualifications,” according to the lawsuit.

The city's personnel director oversees hiring, firing, discipline and union contract negotiations.  

Also during the Feb. 4 meeting, Civil Service Chairwoman Bettye Battle-Turner said the interim director who had been serving since Frank’s resignation was doing “a fantastic job,” before stripping her of her title in favor of allowing Jones to select an interim director.

Representatives of the Ethical Society of Police and the Firefighters Institute for Racial Equality – both membership organizations that represent primarily Black police officers and firefighters – supported the move.

The city’s largest three unions – the firefighters, carpenters and police – had representatives speak against the move to give the mayor the power to appoint an interim director during the Feb. 4 meeting.

Firefighters Local 73 is the first of the three unions to file a lawsuit against the city over the issue.

“To dispense with the existing requirement that an interim personnel director be selected by the commissioners from existing personnel department employees – who would therefore have the sort of institutional knowledge that is critical during a period of transition – in favor of a mayor’s completely unfettered selection simply defies logic and common sense,” wrote Emily Perez of the Hammond and Shinners law firm, which is representing Local 73.

The firefighters union contends the charter forbids the mayor from selecting an interim personnel director to prohibit the position from becoming a political one. Even though the charter allows a mayor to appoint a permanent personnel director, that person is not beholden to the mayor and can only be fired if they do something illegal or neglect their duties.

Jones appointed former Laclede Gas executive John Moten Jr. to the interim position days after the Civil Service Commission changed its rules to allow her to do so.

The firefighters union takes issue with his selection.

“Mr. Moten is not a resident of the City of St. Louis, does not possess a college or advanced degree in human resources or a related field, does not have any direct work experience with the city’s Department of Personnel, and does not have any direct experience in the administration of a municipal civil service system,” according to the lawsuit.

The firefighters are asking a judge to invalidate any actions Moten takes as interim director, as well as require the commission to appoint an interim personnel director from within the department of personnel.

“Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if the interim director of personnel, who exercises considerable authority over plaintiffs’ terms and conditions of employment, is permitted to serve pursuant to an invalid rule that violates the charter,” according to the lawsuit.

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