CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council last Thursday undertook what some called the most difficult decision they've had to make as elected officials, an appeal of an arbitration decision regarding the dismissal of Clearwater Lead Medic Trevor Murray.
Labor attorney Greg Hearing, whose firm Thompson, Sizemore & Gonzalez represented the City in the Murray arbitration hearing, told the Council that the award was "much bigger than the termination of an individual" and suggested that the ruling affects city operations and public safety.
In March 2005, Murray and paramedic Michael Jones failed to respond to a 911 call placed by an habitual abuser of the city's emergency services. In May of 2005, both Murray and Jones were fired by the City and stripped of their paramedic certifications by the Pinellas County Medical Director.
The Firefighters Union appealed the firings, with Murray's hearing occurring in May 2006. Federal arbitrator Martin Holland made an award in the case in September, requiring the City to reinstate Murray and help him regain his paramedic certification.
Hearing objected to Holland's ruling on several points, claiming that he exceeded his authority. While Hearing did not deny that the 911 caller was an abuser of the system, in fact stating that Clearwater Police have responded 150 times to calls from that address, he claimed that arbitrator Holland's ruling determined that the 911 caller was unworthy of a response. Hearing said that such a determination could be made only by the judicial system, not a labor arbitrator.
Hearing also objected to Holland's finding that the City must rehire Murray and create a position for him in the absence of his revoked paramedic certification. "It prejudges the issue of what we do if we can not get Mr. Murray(s) (certification) back."
"Our law firm feels so strongly … that we would volunteer to take this appeal at no cost - that's how strongly we feel about it," Hearing said.
What followed was nearly 1 ½ hours of public comment, all of it supportive of rehiring Murray, and Council discussion. Murray himself made the most poignant appeal. "I guess I'm the guy this is all about," he said. Murray apologized for what he did, and promised that it would not happen again; "I am not a safety issue; I'm one of the best paramedics in the Clearwater Fire Department," he said.
Murray recalled a successful life-saving effort that he and his partner Jones collaborated on March 2, 2005. The woman they rescued wrote a letter to Chief Jamie Geer, praising both Murray and Jones. That letter prompted a letter from Chief of Operations Randall Bacher to Murray and Jones. "The professional and excellent care you delivered did not go unnoticed. The patient you treated shares with me in thanking you for your service. Your superb actions not only reflect great credit on you, but on Clearwater Fire & Rescue as well. Thanks for another job well done. Keep up the great work," Bacher wrote.
"This is the level that I would like to get back to. Please allow me to get back to this level. I have a lot of pride in what I do; I'm a very good paramedic. Give me an opportunity to prove myself to the citizens of Clearwater," Murray pled.
But Murray was not to get the second chance he was seeking. Councilmember John Doran said, "I've been up here for a year and a half, and this is the most difficult thing I've had to do." "It's all about the law," he said, concluding with the sole basis for his decision - "The arbitrator exceeded his authority under the contract."
Doran's colleagues agreed. Only Mayor Frank Hibbard seemed to waver, saying, "It's a very difficult decision for me because, really, when I walked in here today I was leaning towards not moving forward with this… Somewhere I think this whole battle needs to end, but I think we need to go forward because it will have ramifications on not only the Fire Department but all of our departments. And so I will support it this evening as well."
With that, the Council voted unanimously to proceed with an appeal of the arbitrator's decision in the Murray case.
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