When the hiring of Ethan Johnson, son of Fire Chief Peter Johnson, occurred it put the city, the chief and the union in what appears to be an impossible situation.
The City of Sault Ste. Marie has a anti-nepotism policy that has been put in place to prevent such things from occurring.
That policy which the City refers to as the ‘Hiring of Relatives’ states, “The policy is designed to avoid direct reporting relationships whereby one relative has direct authority to administer monetary gain, conduct performance evaluations, recommend for hire or promotion or administer discipline to another relative.”
A relative according to the policy is a spouse, child, sibling or in-law, the instructions are clear.
“The Corporation of The City of Sault Ste. Marie shall not hire, transfer, promote or assign an individual to a department/division, which will result in the individual being supervised by a member of Senior Staff related to them. Senior Staff refers to a Department Head, Division Head and Deputy.”
In a document provided to SaultOnline stating the Chiefs responsibilities, section 9.2 reads “The members and administration of Fire Department while on duty shall be under the direct supervision of the Fire Chief or next ranking officer in any place.”
In addition, under section 8.2.e. of the ‘City’s Responsibilities of the Fire Chief’ it states, “For the conduct and discipline of the members and administrative support staff of the Fire Services.”
When we asked Sault Fire Services and the City a few questions with regards to the hiring and how it would affect the chief going forward, taking into effect the violation of policy, Communications Manager Tessa Vecchio provided us with the following answers:
Q. If the chief, who is in charge of all discipline according to the City’s own policy, at the fire department isn’t going to be disciplining his son, will he be recusing himself from discipline of all other firefighters too?
A. Disciplinary actions, for all areas of the Corporation, are a shared responsibility with input from and oversight by Human Resources. The Chief will retain his usual role, with Human Resources and the relevant Deputy Chief, for other firefighters.
The Sault Fire Services command flow chart reads as follows:
- Firefighter (union member) reports to a Captain (union member). The captain reports to a Platoon Chief (who is also a union member). None of these individual hand out discipline.
- The Platoon Chief answers to the Deputy Chief of Suppression, Cole, who isn’t a union member. Cole answers to Chief Johnson.
- Cole, who would be the only other person able to discipline the Chief’s son, was selected as Deputy Fire Chief by Johnson in September of 2017 just three months after Johnson was named Chief.
In most union environments, what happens to one member, is what is expected to happen to other members. In this case, if the Chief can not discipline his son, a union could make an argument he can not discipline any of the firefighters. Leaving Cole as the head disciplinary individual and not the Chief as per his duties spelt out within his job description.
The protection of taxpayer money was also brought to the city’s attention in our follow-ups.
Q. How is the Fire Chief going to be able to keep taxpayers money in mind when he’s now negotiating salaries for the firefighters?
A. The mandates and approvals for collective bargaining are decided by Council. The City’s negotiating team for collective bargaining is led by Human Resources, assisted by the senior leadership from relevant area. The Fire Chief will be recusing himself from the monetary part of negotiations which, in any event, are led by Human Resources.
The last negotiation team for the City included, Director of Human Resources Peter Niro, Fire Chief Johnson, Deputy Fire Chiefs Stuart Cole and Peter Milosevich, and the City’s Labour Relations representative Ida Bruno.
Q. How can the City assure taxpayers that all negotiations will now be done above board [and that] neither Ethan nor Peter are sharing information on the ongoing negotiations.
A. Both the City and the SSMPFFA are obligated to bargain in good faith when engaged in collective bargaining.
While conducting routine research on this matter, we learned that Ethan has already started with Sault Fire Services. Most times, as we have previously reported, Sault Fire Services has done a passing of the helmet ceremony for new firefighters on their first day and posted it to social media.
Vecchio was able to tell us that ceremony has yet to take place in this case.
SaultOnline has also learned that the Ontario Ombudsman has been contacted on this matter and is currently conducting interviews with complainants. It is unclear if that means they have started an investigation at this time.
The City pays its Fire Chief $178,009 a year to perform all the duties required of his position. It appears, by the above responses to our questions, that Chief Johnson has found himself in the position of not being able to be involved with some of those duties.
Stay with SaultOnline/ONNtv as we continue to gather facts and information in relation to potential violations around hiring and other City policies.