By TOM GRASER
Nov 14, 2020 Updated Nov 15, 2020
OGDENSBURG — Jason Bouchard, president of Ogdensburg Firefighters Local 1799, sent a letter to media Friday announcing city firefighters voted unanimously “no confidence” in City Manager Stephen P. Jellie. Mr. Jellie and members of the fire department have clashed since the summer, shortly after Mr. Jellie, who was serving as interim city manager at the time, was named as the department’s chief. “His (Mr. Jellie’s) reckless directives and complete apathy towards the opinions and well-being of our public safety experts, with hundreds of years experience in this municipality are unacceptable and downright dangerous,” Bouchard wrote in the letter.
The tension has increased most recently when Mr. Jellie proposed a city budget for 2021 which includes the elimination of 10 positions within the fire department. Firefighters have called the move dangerous, while Mr. Jellie points to the dire circumstances of city finances.
In his letter, Mr. Bouchard claims Mr. Jellie has notified the department of a directive, which is to start Jan. 1, 2021, to respond to all emergencies using only one truck. Firefighters deem the directive “dangerous.” “Despite several pleas otherwise from our assistant chiefs, who cumulatively have over 107 years of combined experience in this city, Mr. Jellie has unilaterally implemented this policy to begin the new year with no regard of departmental input,” Mr. Bouchard wrote.
Mr. Jellie said firefighters are trying to scare the public. “Today’s latest public relations stunt, an old tactic to garner public support and inject fear in the community, will not undermine the resolve of city management to do what is best for overburdened taxpayers and struggling business owners. We remain committed to the survival of the city as we continue to drive our economic revival forward,” Mr. Jellie wrote in an email.
The firefighters are refusing to negotiate a way through the fiscal emergency the city faces, Mr. Jellie said. “The city of Ogdensburg earnestly wants to negotiate a staffing solution with the Firefighters Union, yet President Jason Bouchard and Secretary Ronald Bouchard continue to refuse our offers while reciting from a seemingly endless list of excuses why they will not allow negotiations to take place,” Mr. Jellie wrote. “The Firefighters Union most recently refused a request to talk on 12 November and to date, will not provide a timeline for when they will discuss staffing in a collective manner.”
Mr. Bouchard said Mr. Jellie is not listening to leadership in the fire department about his policies, in particular the plan to eliminate 10 positions. “He has yet to lay out any operational plan as to how our mission can be carried out effectively and safely,” Mr. Bouchard wrote. “This is the opposite of anything that could be interpreted as leadership. These countless concerns that have been expressed to Mr. Jellie by our actual department leaders but have fallen upon deaf ears. The city manager’s actions have deliberately and repeatedly displayed his lack of concern for the safety of our department members and the citizens that they protect. “It is due to these reasons, amongst many others, that we the union vote no confidence in Mr. Stephen Jellie,” he added.
Mr. Jellie said the city is doing what it needs to do and wants to cooperate with the fire department. “I am fully committed to working collectively, transparently and in good faith with the Firefighter’s Union, but I will not continue to allow President Bouchard and Secretary Bouchard to have veto authority over the duly elected city council; they do not own the city,” Mr. Jellie wrote. “The contract they continue to assert as binding was ratified in the final days of the previous city council in a valiant and calculated attempt to tie the hands of the incoming city council, a fact that is well established, undeniable and we cannot condone those irresponsible actions.”