Councilman Jim Kenney on Thursday introduced legislation calling for a City Council hearing investigating the proposed demotion of 14 Philadelphia firefighters, a battle that is currently playing out in court.
The firefighters were promoted – five of them to the rank of captain and nine to the rank of lieutenant – after Court of Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker on May 14 ruled the city must fill firefighters vacancies with those who passed the promotion exam and whose names were included on a list.
But Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini on Sept. 18 reversed the ruling, siding with members of Mayor Michael Nutter's administration, who claim Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers is not required to fill firefighter vacancies with those who pass the exam, but that he can pick and choose who to promote.
The legal battle continued after Judge Ellen Ceisler on Tuesday put a temporary stop to the demotions as Tucker reviews the case.
"Yesterday, Commissioner Lloyd Ayers attended a hearing dealing with challenges to the Commonwealth Court's ruling that [the firefighters] could be demoted and he said in court he was 'forced' to promote these people based on a court order," Kenney said during Thursday's City Council hearing.
Holding up photographs of the promotion ceremony for the firefighters whose titles are now in question, Kenney said, "Commissioner Ayers is smiling in every one of these pictures. It doesn't seem to me he was forced to do these promotions."
"The reason why it resonates with me is in 1967 and again in 1975, my father was promoted to captain and battalion chief," Kenney continued.
"I attended those ceremonies with my brothers and mother. Those are some of the most important memories I have growing up. We were very proud of what my dad did for a living because he put on a uniform every day and saved lives.
"Every single family member in any of these pictures went through the same feelings and are all now going through the feelings of, 'Why is my brave dad who became a captain or lieutenant being demoted by the city they serve and the fire department they serve?'"
Kenney reiterated he doesn't believe it was Ayers choice or desire to demote the firefighters.
"The day before yesterday, Everett Gillison said that, along with the city solicitor and Deputy Mayor [Mike] Resnick, that they were exercising a 'management prerogative,'" he said.
"So now, on the one hand, Fire Commissioner Ayers said he was forced to do something. On the other hand, Gillison and others are saying they were exercising a 'management prerogative.'"
He called on the fire department and city to instead foster a productive dialogue with firefighters, noting there are still 39 fire department openings for captains and lieutenants.
After the Council session, Kenney blasted the decision to demote the 14 firefighters as "retaliation" by Mayor Nutter, Chief of Staff Everett Gillison, Deputy Mayor Resnick and City Solicitor Shelley Smith.
"Instead of getting an order that's favorable to them and saying, 'Well, maybe it's now time to change the climate. We have a whole bunch of other openings that we can promote people for. We keep these 14 people on the job and we can go forward with a better and brighter and more positive attitude.' But no, they can't do that," Kenney said, saying the officials instead put on a "tough guy act."
"It's all retaliation," Kenney said.
"Everything that they have made this commissioner do and that he's done relative to discipline, forced transfers, arbitration disputes, and now this promotional stuff, is all done out of antagonism – period. And I don't care what they say about 'management prerogative' or anything else, it's all about sticking it to them, and that's a shame. The public safety people in this city who would willingly give their life for you, they're the ones you want to pick on. It's pretty senseless."
A ruling regarding the 14 firefighters' demotions is expected Thursday.