SEBRING In apparently unrelated events, the city of Sebring notified the head of the firefighters union he was suspended as a firefighter the same day a special magistrate ruled in favor of the union on some key issues in a contract dispute with the city.
Leonard T. Helford, the special magistrate, seemed more favorable to the union on key issues of discipline and the pension plan. Helford was appointed after the city declared an impasse in negotiations with the union for a new contract.
“We were not surprised,” Assistant City administrator Bob Hoffman said about the magistrate’s decision. The city plans to submit exceptions to some parts of the decision, he said. Ultimately, the Sebring City Council will decide whether the city should accept the recommendations of the magistrate.
Hoffman said he was surprised to learn that Daniel Ross Edmonds, 30, the president of the union, was commenting about the magistrate’s decision, as Edmonds was placed on administrative leave without pay. A letter notifying Edmonds of that was sent March 20, Hoffman said.
Records showed that Highlands County Sheriff’s Office arrested him on March 18 and he was charged with felony domestic battery.
The report said that Edmonds and his wife were in a dispute and that his wife attempted to grab his computer to see if he was talking to other women. Edmonds was accused of reacting to that and slapping and choking her, the report said.
Two days later, Fire Chief Brad Batz wrote Edmonds a letter saying that the city became aware of the arrest and that Edmonds was being placed on administrative leave with pay. Batz wrote an informal meeting will be held on March 25 to determine whether Edmonds should be placed on administrative leave without pay.
Edmonds declined to comment on that. He did say that as of the morning of March 22 he was unaware he was on administrative leave.
He also said he believes the special master made a fair decision.
“He’s a professional,” Edmonds said. “He does this for a living. I think he made a prudent decision.”
Edmonds added that he felt the union gave more during negotiations and that Helford saw that.
In one key issue, Helford recommended against the city’s desire to remove arbitration without having any other system in place to address firefighter concerns about discipline decisions.
He also recommended against the city’s plan to remove all employees from a pension system and replace it with a 401K plan. He said he felt that current employees on the pension plan should be allowed to stay there.