MANSFIELD -- The union that represents the City of Mansfield's firefighters has asked for labor-management meetings with the administration regarding the performance of Chief Steve Strickling.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 266 recommended the meetings after 80-plus union members approved a "vote of no confidence" in the nine-year chief on June 16.
The union, led by President Matt Shafley and Vice President Shawn Yerian, said the chief has "created unacceptable working conditions through toxic leadership, conduct unbecoming of a fire chief, anger management issues, disregard for department morale and a lack of consistency regarding discipline."
The two union leaders met with Richland Source on Friday afternoon at Idea Works.
The union has asked the administration to host "weekly, bi-weekly or monthly meetings with IAFF representatives, MFD officers, and Chief Strickling; mediated by the Safety Service Director, and relevant staff to address and improve management-labor relations, ensure ongoing and clear communication, and provide immediate feedback to challenges."
The union also asked for "mandatory training and coaching focused on effective communication skills, anger management, and labor relations to Chief Strickling."
"If (these) solutions are unattainable, it is Local 266's opinion that Chief Strickling be removed from the position," the union said.
A Richland Source message for the chief seeking comment was left at his office on Friday.
Dave Remy, the city's public works director and interim safety service director, said he became aware of the IAFF Local's vote last week. He said Friday that he and Sharon May, the city's human resources director, had a discussion with union leaders.
"We were advised the concerns (union members) had and their desire to try to resolve them," Remy said.
"We are in the process of working with them to try to set up some kind of labor-management conference to further discuss then in detail and attempt to resolve them with the input of the chief," Remy said.
He said no date had been set for that session.
"We are shooting for the middle or end of next week," Remy said.
Remy was asked to characterize the union's concerns about Strickling.
"I would say there are some concerns about (his) management style and I would let it go at that," he said.
The IAFF represents all firefighters in the department except for the chief and assistant chiefs.
Yerian, a lieutenant, said firefighter concerns have been ongoing, but the act that motivated them to finally take public action was Strickling's decision to take a rescue squad out of service on March 17.
Shafley said Strickling made the decision out of anger when some department members called in sick and others initially declined to work overtime. He said firefighters didn't know the chief would take the squad out of service or they would have tried to make it into work.
He said Strickling wanted "to prove a point" about staffing to the city administration.
Shafley and Yerian said it was the wrong decision and demonstrated "gross neglect of duty."
"We don't have a right to take that truck away from citizens. Those people pay taxes in that part of town, just like everybody else. There is no telling what kind of emergency could have happened," Shafley said.
"He is the first fire chief in the history of the city to ever purposely take a truck out of service without being ordered (to do so)," Shafley said.
During that time period, the union leaders said, an additional rescue squad suffered temporary mechanical failure, leaving just two ambulances available to cover the entire city.
The union leaders also said Strickling's "toxic behavior" has included "all-out bullying, screaming and berating" to more "subtle" incorrect behavior through poor communication, unequal standards, setting people up for failure through lack of training, mismanagement and hostility.
The union leaders admitted Strickling has been a vocal public advocate for new equipment and personnel, but also said his management style has led to numerous firefighters leaving the department, contributing to a lack of manning.
"It's the work environment. Day-to-day operation needs. The problem you're facing is when you go into the chief's office and say 'We have this new challenge,' he says, 'That's what you signed up for. Get out of my office,'" Shafley said.
"He has created an environment that's unworkable."
The union leaders said they are hopeful Strickling is willing to change the way he operates.
"This vote of no confidence is like our cry for help," Yerian said. "Obviously, we can't terminate him over this. I don't think that's the goal of the union. We just need things addressed.
"That's why are making it public knowledge. Unfortunately in the past, we have tried to have labor-management meetings, but he has kind of corralled his audience to benefit him," Yerian said.
"We don't want to run the fire department. That's not our job. But when we have good ideas and we take it to the fire chief and we're completely looked over, I can't go anywhere else. I'm invested in this department," Yerian said.