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Firefighters’ sick-leave theater makes you laugh until you cry

Curled up with popcorn, I watched the best show in town, a recording of the Clark County Commission meeting Tuesday, which turned out to be a drama and a comedy.

The drama was watching Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak eviscerate Ryan Beaman, president of the Clark County Firefighters, Local 1908. The commissioner used Beaman’s own words to make the firefighter’s top contract negotiator look like the master of deceit.

Throughout 2010, Beaman told the news media there was no abuse of sick leave by county firefighters. Then, after that was proven, why, it was just a few wrongdoers.

Beaman’s version crumbled into ashes when Assistant County Manager Ed Finger laid it all out to the commissioners.

Finger said most of the stats he presented had been shared with the union in March when arbitration began. During arbitration, the excesses of 18 firefighters were detailed.

Yet in September, Beaman still was telling a radio audience he “had not seen any proof of sick leave abuse” and it was up to management or the fire chief to investigate.

Sisolak noted that, only after compromising e-mails came out, did Beaman change his tune, admitting there were a few bad apples and they should be punished.

As recently as Sunday in the Review-Journal, Beaman wrote it was “a small number of firefighters who have repeatedly misused sick leave for personal gain.” He blamed county officials and top-ranking fire officials and the county commissioners.

On Monday, Beaman said, “The county should have shared information on misuse of sick leave when they discovered it.”

At least a few Clark County firefighters and supervisors are dumb bums. They were stupid enough to put their cheatin’ ways in e-mails, and some supervisors answered via e-mail, proving there was collusion.

Sisolak asked federal and local officials to investigate, and the FBI and the district attorney’s office are both looking into whether abusing sick leave constitutes a crime.

Nearly 40 percent of the firefighters took more than a month of sick leave in 2009. Obviously, some of them took the time for legitimate reasons. They were sick. Their contract also allows them to take time off when immediate family members are sick.

But not to extend a vacation.

The worst offenders appeared to be veterans with 25 to 30 years with the Fire Department. They were also the ones racking up the most overtime through callbacks, which increased their pension payments from the Public Employees Retirement System. They’re the bums who were cheating the system, using contract rules to enrich their golden years.

One firefighter took 924 hours of sick leave, and 1,455 hours of overtime and callbacks, earning $195,000. Another claimed sick leave for 4½ months, yet worked 2,223 hours overtime, earning $232,187. This was one of the bums who put his misdeeds in an e-mail.

Near the end, the show turned riotously funny, when Beaman became humble and said in the next round of contract negotiations, if both sides “would be honest and upright and forthright with issues, it would definitely be helpful.” Nearly choked on my popcorn laughing.

Firefighters head into the next contract negotiation with little credibility and little respect from a public outraged by the behavior of a too large minority.

County Manager Don Burnette said he was unable to obtain a provision in the contract approved Tuesday that would make it easier to discipline firefighters who abuse sick leave. Guess there won’t be a problem inserting that in the next contract.

The public thinks this is a disgrace. The public is right.

The county, however, should look for administrative and civil remedies rather than wait for some criminal action. That would be faster, and more likely to succeed.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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