By TRACEY O’NEILL
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN– Town Manager, Michael Embury, in response to Friday’s Superior Court decision rendered by Judge Brian J. Stern, fired off a three-page letter to the town council bullet-pointing his concerns and suggestive remedies for the judge’s legal rulings.
Calling the decision ordering the Town to return its firefighters to their previous terms of employment a “head-scratcher,” Embury noted much discussion to come. Taking issue with the decision, touching on several concerns before the court, Embury was expecting the decision to speak solely to the question of arbitration.
Requesting a stay of arbitration proceedings due to the Union’s purported non-compliance with statutory notice and bargaining requirements, the Town although successful in its bid for stay was found equally culpable in bringing any unresolved issues to the bargaining table in accordance with state law.
Expressing shock with the judge’s decision, Embury’s letter decried disagreement with the court’s rendering a decision on issues outside the realm of the arbitration stay. “We certainly do not agree with [court’s] other decisions on the unbriefed issues,” he noted.
Calling the Judge’s decision “strangely contrary to the whole purpose of the collective bargaining laws” the Town Manager was insistent that the court rendered a decision without considering all of the facts and hearing argument.
The letter also took issue with the judge’s May 23, 2012 decision, rendering the Town’s ordinance unilaterally changing the structure of the fire department invalid and violative of the Town Charter.
Seemingly perplexed with the outcome and facing a sweeping whitewash of the Town implemented procedures, Embury’s letter was indicative of legal drama destined to continue. “It certainly behooves the Town to ask the Supreme Court to see that we have a fair hearing,” he continued. “The fiscal ramifications of the judge’s ruling being upheld are obvious - hundreds of thousands of dollars of employee costs short-term and millions in the coming years.”
The Union bill for wages and overtime currently standing in excess of $1 million is sure t climb if a Supreme Court appeal is sought.
Ray Furtado, President of the NKFFA, said he was pleased with the hearing and the result.
“They have continued to follow poor legal advice and direction, and we have continuously prevailed,” Furtado said. “We hope that they reassess their position and realize that the most productive way to resolve the situation is to follow the law instead of constantly looking for ways around it.”
In looking to the climbing legal fees, time and energy put forth in the battle to defend the invalidated ordinance and its implementation, Furtado considered the effort counterproductive. Calling for a return to negotiations and a quick return to the prior department structure, Furtado was hopeful that this week’s meeting in CBA negotiations for the coming year would be positive in nature.
“We are meeting on Friday to begin negotiations for 2013-2014,” he said. “Then we have 30 days to come to an agreement on unresolved issues.”
With a possible Supreme Court Appeal on the table for local taxpayers, Representative Doreen Costa (Rep. D-31) also weighed in on the town’s intentions.
“I’m not surprised and I don’t agree,” Costa said. “We are looking at millions of dollars of wasted taxpayer money if this continues. It’s going to cost the taxpayers of North Kingstown.”