THE ISSUE: Councilman's Facebook comments draw attention
OUR VIEW: Belittling firefighters does nothing for resolution
We like it when elected officials speak their mind.
The public deserves to know where their city council, school board and county board members, for example, stand on issues. After all, we elected them to work for us.
Regularly scheduled public meetings provide a venue at which these officials can share their opinions, and take action on matters important in their communities.
Some officials are more outspoken than others. And some rarely comment during public meetings.
Streator Councilman Brian Crouch falls within the latter category. That's why it was surprising when he criticized (borderline mocked) the Streator firefighters union in a personal Facebook post Tuesday. While the post was on his personal page, it didn't take long for his comments to be shared and seen by hundreds in the community.
Crouch took issue with an item published Monday in The Times that he believes a firefighter shared with a reporter to influence the public's perception of the fire department at a time when the city has proposed cuts to the department.
Crouch said in an interview with The Times after he made the comment he wanted to express that the union needs to be more receptive to the recent proposal made by the city to take code enforcement and medical assistance duties from firefighters.
The proposal aims to save the city $500,000 annually by cutting three firefighter positions through retirements or regular turnover, using the city's outsourced service for code enforcement, along with community service officers and part-time police officers for these duties and assistance calls.
The item published in the newspaper's police blotter said: "Streator firefighters assisted in seven medical calls from Friday night to Sunday afternoon." Reporters from The Times call the fire department to collect daily reports, which are given to them by a firefighter who answers.
Crouch posted on Facebook: "So this appears at the bottom of the fire calls listing in Monday's edition of the times newspaper. Are we supposed to feel Sorry for these guys. Or should I contact Trophies for Tryin and ask them if they would like to donate a concert venue on the lawn of the fire department. Because they had to do their job over the weekend. And for the record. Trophies for Tryin is not affiliated with this post in any way shape or form."
Tensions have been high between the city and union for a variety of reasons. We're not going to flesh out those issues here, but merely point out it's been highly emotional on both ends – some of which can be attirbuted to mud slinging on social media from those on both sides.
Posts like Crouch's do nothing to help solve these issues. In fact, such comments create even more tension, furthering the parties from any sort of resolution. We must stress Crouch isn't alone in taking these issues to social media. But he is an elected official, so the post picked up quite a bit of steam.
After reaching out to Crouch about the post, he asked to meet with an editor to provide some context.
He said he believes the fire and police departments "do a great job," but he believes the firefighters union is avoiding the issue of pension and insurance costs.
"It's not sustainable," Crouch said. "We're stuck between a rock and a hard place with funding. ... To me, I have to look out for the taxpayer and do what's best for them."
He said he would like to see both sides work harder to reach a compromise in negotiations.
Frankly, the biting commentary on social media on both sides is counterproductive. To repeat our view from a July 12 editorial: "We’ve long said something must change to end the simmering tensions between City Hall and the fire station, and encourage everyone involved to work toward that goal."
Residents don't want to see snark. They want to see solutions.