The 94-member Kennewick Firefighters Union IAFF Local 1296 stepped off the sidelines to support the city’s move to oust Chief Vince Beasley last week.
David Weibel, president of the union, said members support the decision by City Manager Marie Mosley to request Beasley’s retirement after 37 years with the city, including five years as chief.
Weibel and about 30 current and former firefighters showed their support for Mosley at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Kennewick City Council.
But a contingent of citizens were also at the meeting, several saying they were in disbelief that a long-time employee was treated like that.
Sharon Wishard, who said she’s a friend of Beasley’s, called the city’s actions “atrocious.”
She told the council he is a man of honor and integrity and said something “underhanded” happened and she was “ticked off.”
Evora Beasley, the chief’s wife of 41 years, told council members her husband is an excellent father and family man who loves his job and puts work first. She descirbed years of missed family and church events.
“It isn’t right,” she said.
“If you do not reinstate Vince Beasley, it will be a travesty,” said Charles Villanueva of Kennewick, who said he was astounded the city would ignore 37 years of service.
“There are people walking around Kennewick alive because of the service of Vince Beasley,” he said
The council took no action Tuesday and the city attorney explained to people at the meeting that the council doesn’t make those personnel decisions.
Under Kennewick’s council-manager form of government, the elected council members hire the city manager to run day-to-day operations. The city manager, not the council, makes the call on personnel matters, including the police and fire chief positions.
But it appeared likely that the council planned to discuss the issue with its attorney in a closed-door session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilman John Trumbo asked for an unscheduled executive session to discuss potential litigation without specifying if it concerned the ex-chief. Afterwards, no action was taken in public session.
Weibel said the union initially planned to keep quiet as the city and its former chief traded conflicting statements in the media a week ago.
But members — 92 active firefighters and two retirees — wanted to weigh in.
Members told their representatives they wanted to have a voice, and feared the public would misconstrue union silence as a sign city employees were being muzzled.
Weibel declined to elaborate on why firefighters sided with the city manager over their former boss, except to say they agree with the city’s statement that there were leadership and performance issues.
The public dust-up between Beasley and the city began Sept. 21.
In a bid to address rumors about the fire chief’s position, the city manager sent a message to fire department members indicating the city was discussing retirement options with Beasley.
Beasley responded with a news release over the weekend that accused the city of attempting to fire him. Beasley said he had no intention of retiring.
Beasley, city at odds
After Beasley sent his news release, the city announced Beasley had “effectively retired” by releasing his statement. Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, who is also the city’s deputy manager, is managing the department pending a national search for a new fire chief.
Following the back-and-forth exchange between the chief and city the weekend of Sept. 21, Beasley on Monday, Sept. 23, demanded an apology and his job back, calling his abrupt end with the city an “injustice.”
Weibel said his members disagree.
“There’s 92 firefighters that think there was no injustice,” he said.
Weibel read the following statement to the city council:
My name is David Weibel, I am the President of Kennewick Firefighters Union, IAFF Local 1296. In light of recent events I speak on behalf of the 94 members of Kennewick’s Fire Union. We would like to voice our support for the recent decision to pursue a new direction in the leadership of your Kennewick Fire Department. We support the City manager’s decision and we are excited about the direction and vision of the City of Kennewick including the Kennewick Fire Department. We want to again, assure our Citizens, we are first devoted the their safety and to providing the highest level of care and service to our community. Thank You on behalf of all Kennewick Fire Fighters.
Council didn’t discuss decision
Mayor Don Britain has previously said the council did not discuss Beasley’s departure prior to his exit from the city.
Beasley earned $164,300 in 2018, making him the sixth-highest-paid employee in the city of Kennewick after the city manager, the police chief, public works director, human resources director and city attorney.
His salary rose to more than $171,000 this year.