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Fire chief appeal sent to state Labor Relations Board

The county Merit Appeals Board voted Monday to send a complaint over the selection of the fire chief to the state Labor Relations Board to determine if the county board has jurisdiction.

Former Acting Fire Chief Robert Perreira, who had previously been the deputy fire chief, had appealed the Fire Commission’s selection of former Battalion Chief Kazuo Todd as the new chief, saying the election had not been conducted in a fair and transparent process. Todd was sworn in April 15, and Perreira retired from the department April 30.

A March 10 vote by the commission raised questions when the vote was taken in executive session and then ratified in open session. The commission redid the vote April 14, holding the vote in open session, with commissioners submitting handwritten ballots.

“The briefs show there is a controversy over whether this board has the authority to hear this appeal,” said Merit Appeals Board Chairwoman Gabriella Cabanas.

Cabanas said the board won’t take a position on the issue nor represent either party. She “strongly urged” the parties to file a petition to intervene in the case, that begins with the board’s petition for a declaratory ruling. Meanwhile, she declared the case in abeyance.

“If the Hawaii Labor Relations Board determines the Merit Appeals Board has the authority, then we will lift the abeyance,” she said. “However, if the Hawaii Labor Relations Board determines the Merit Appeals Board does not have the authority, we will dismiss this petition.”

The county, through Deputy Corporation Counsel Lerisa Heroldt, contends the issue is an administrative or judicial process, because the position of fire chief is exempt from civil service laws.

Perreira said he law “clearly states” the county board has jurisdiction, and he cited a case he said showed that. However, if he has to argue before a state board, he will do so, he said.

“If this is a process it has to go through, than that’s the process I will go through,” Perreira said.

The fire chief controls an annual budget of $52 million and oversees 470 employees. In fiscal year 2019-20, the department responded to a 26,101 calls for assistance, of which nearly 18,000 were for emergency medical services and 900 were for fires or explosions. The career position paid about $153,096 in 2020.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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