The issue of unmade promotions - comprising about a third of the current supervisory positions - continues to nag the St. Louis Fire Department. Morale, always an issue in any organization that involves so much waiting around on a state of alert, has plummeted. Some firefighters are questioning the fairness and safety of using temporary officers as supervisors.
Aldermanic president Lewis Reed and I have separately urged Fire Chief Sherman George to make the promotions, but the Chief, whose tenure we both continue to support, has been torn between those recommendations and the complaints of some firefighters that the promotion tests were biased.
To review the facts, a Federal judge has ruled that the promotional test was valid, did not discriminate, and legitimately tested the skills and knowledge needed to be a captain or battalion chief in the St. Louis Fire Department. The Federal judge heard all of the testimony and held a full trial on all of the merits. He ruled the plaintiffs "did not produce any evidence of alternative selection procedures of which the City was apprised which would have been as substantially valid as the 2000 and 2004 Fire Captain and Battalion Chief examinations, but with lesser adverse impact." In other words, those opposed to the test have had their day in court - and lost.
Ignoring the court's clear, unequivocal ruling is creating hard feelings among many of the men and women in the department who have waited patiently for promotions. If we - the City and the Fire Department - are not going to live by the court's ruling, what was the point of all of the litigation? It is time that the promotions be made - and that the firefighters best qualified to be supervisors officially assume their ranks, duties, and salaries.
Here's the outline of a solution that could mollify most reasonable parties:
Make the promotions. After the promotions are made, the City will close the current promotions list and begin the lengthy process of hiring a company to devise and conduct a test for new promotion lists. That process will include not only the personnel department, but also Chief George, his supervisor in the Public Safety Department, the Law Department, and representatives of both FIRE and Local 73.
More of doing nothing simply compromises public safety and the integrity of the Department.
A fuller statement of my proposed direction for the Fire Department is here.