By Selwyn Harris
President of Pahrump Valley Fire and Rescue Services union responded to comments made by Pahrump Town Board Chair Vicky Parker last week.
According to the Town of Pahrump’s Invoice Accounting Report released earlier this month, the town has paid more than $55,000 in legal fees over the past two months alone.
Though some of the fees were related to the day-to-day business of the town, the report indicated that issues pertaining to grievances from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4068 IAFF cost the town thousands of dollars.
Parker noted that she thought for the most part, the grievances were frivolous.
“The union has just filed grievance after grievance after grievance. They are not really winning them but it’s costing us lots of money,” Parker said at the time.
Out of the $55,821.08, more than $15,000 was spent defending the town against said grievances.
Town of Pahrump Finance Director Michael Sullivan said the billing process is initiated by how many hours attorneys from the Reno-based law firm Armstrong Teasdale spend on a particular case.
He noted that the moment an attorney just picks up the phone to make a call regarding town issues, charges are incurred.
“It’s up to so many hours and it also excludes certain types of specialized legal work, including lawsuits, negotiations, water, and claims. It’s specialized where it is not in the normal drafting of ordinances, giving legal advice and showing up at board meetings.
“There’s really two things going on. You have the monthly retainer and then any hours in excess of it and as I have said the specialized cases where they are specifically working on negotiations, contract disputes, and grievances. Those are pretty open-ended and that’s kind of the structure of the agreement in round terms,” he said last week.
IAFF President Justin Snow said he believes that Parker’s claims are exaggerated.
“She was talking about how we are costing the town money by going into arbitration. I don’t think she quite understands what the grievance process is. Just because a grievance is filed, doesn’t mean it costs anybody any money. It just means that we feel that there has been a violation of our contract or some kind of state law or something like that.
“The majority of grievances that are filed don’t go into arbitration and don’t cost any money at all. We just have to file them or else we lose the ability to complain about it basically and get it rectified.
“This year there has been seven that we had to file so far. Three of them have been settled without going anywhere near lawyers or anything like that, so it didn’t cost any money at all,” he said.
Snow said he could not provide details about the nature of the grievances because they are still active.
He suggested that the town may be somewhat “trigger happy” when the issue of union grievances comes to light.
“Quite frankly, we don’t always pick up the phone and use our lawyer, so if they are calling their lawyer on absolutely everything, then they may be using them when they don’t have to. She Parker is kind of blaming us for things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. I just don’t want people to think that we are purposely filing things that cost the town money,” he said.
Snow expanded on the grievance issue by providing a few examples.
He mentioned that everything relating to possible grievances must be documented.
“The reason it has to be written down is because if you don’t actually write it down and you don’t make the complaint within 10 days, you lose your ability to complain about it. One of the things that I wanted to be very clear about is just because we write it down, it doesn’t mean that it cost anybody any money. It could be something as simple as somebody was forced to work overtime and for whatever reason it was not put on their paycheck.
“Nine times out of 10 that is fixed without a problem, but we still have to write it down. The first step is that we go to a lieutenant, but in that case, the lieutenant does not have the authority to change that because it is out of their purview. Since that is such an easy one, the chief would usually look at that and handle it. It never cost anybody a dime and it is just written on the paper that it happened and then it goes back. That is probably 75 percent of the stuff that happens,” he said.
Snow said that there are times when supervisors such as the lieutenant and chief are not part of the discussion on a particular issue.
“When things get bad and they come down from the town board or from Town Manager Bill Kohbarger, there is nothing the chief can do and there is nothing the lieutenant can do we have to go to the town manager. Whether or not he calls their lawyer on that, it’s not up to me and even if they do, I don’t understand why they are saying that it cost them money just to call the guy because I’m pretty sure they have a retainer,” he said.
Snow also wanted to point out that the majority of the union has strong disagreements on how the department is being run.
Those disagreements were directed at Fire Chief Scott Lewis.
“I can only say that a vote of no confidence went through and it was a 76 percent positive vote of no confidence. We are working together to try and address those issues,” he said.
Lewis says he doesn’t comment on union activities and didn’t provide a rebuttal to Snow’s comment about the no confidence vote.
Phone calls to Kohbarger were not returned.