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Orange County Focus

WESTMINSTER : Battle Continues Over 5 Firefighters

August 28, 1993|BERT ELJERA

A battle between the city and the Westminster Firefighters' Assn. focused Friday on why five laid-off firefighters who were reinstated by court order are now being paid to stay home.

City officials said that the firefighters were reinstated Thursday but were immediately placed on administrative leave, with pay, pending the completion of negotiations between the city and the firefighters' association about the layoffs.

But Alan C. Davis, the firefighters' attorney, said that placing the firefighters on administrative leave "does not constitute compliance" with the court order. He said the court ruling was precise in allowing the firefighters to return to work.

"If (city officials) refuse to abide by the court decision, they're obviously in contempt of court," said Davis Friday from his office in San Francisco.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert E. Thomas on Wednesday ordered the city to reinstate firefighters Billie Nelson, Paul Sanchez, Richard Brandt, James Keehn and Tim Creed, who were laid off Aug. 20.

"We've been ordered to reinstate them, and we have," said Mayor Charles V. Smith. He said the court order did not prevent the city from placing the firefighters on administrative leave.

City Atty. Richard Jones there are practical reasons why the firefighters can't be given work schedules right away.

"We can't keep changing people's schedule every couple of weeks," Jones said. In addition, he said, there is also the question of the severance pay paid to the firefighters when they were laid off.

Jones said the city will ask Thomas for a clarification on Monday.

Davis said the decision to put the firefighters on administrative leave does not make sense, because the city will still be paying their salaries.

"The city will pay other firefighters for overtime work while the five will be paid for staying home," said Davis, who added that the layoffs were supposedly motivated by a desire to save money.

Paul Gilbrook, president of Westminster Firefighters Local Union 2425, said the city's actions reinforce union members' belief that the layoffs amounted to political retaliation for their support of Joy Neugebauer, an opponent of Mayor Charles V. Smith in last November's election.

Smith has denied seeking revenge. He said the cuts were necessary to trim expenses, including overtime costs of about $2 million over two years.

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