In one of his last acts as mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, Mark Holland has called a meeting of the UG Commission today to discuss a report that KCK firefighters were paid for work they didn’t perform last year.
The UG report says the money went to firefighters who were paid for shifts they traded away without reciprocating. Only six of the department’s 391 firefighters exchanged an equal number of hours, the report says, while 237 firefighters split $920,000 of taxpayer money for time not worked. Eleven of them got more than $10,000 apiece, according to the analysis.
KCK firefighters work 24-hour shifts, followed by 48 hours off. Under shift trading, one firefighter agrees to take another’s shift. Both are paid as if no swap took place, but the trades are supposed to be reciprocated so the pay evens out.
Holland, whose last day in office is Monday, says the report’s findings are outrageous and reveal widespread corruption in the department.
“Nowhere else in the UG and nowhere else in America can you pay someone else under the table to do your work for you,” Holland says.
He says payroll records show one firefighter worked 3,000 hours, which he says makes no sense unless he was paid under the table for work he didn’t do.
“Either he is in slave labor and is enslaved by his co-workers to do their bidding or he's being paid,” Holland says.
Holland wants the UG Commission to pass an ordinance barring Unified Government employees from getting paid by anyone except the government for work they perform for the government. He says he hopes to take that up at today’s meeting. He’ll need the votes of six commissioners to get it passed.
“I was on vacation when this report came out, was outraged and on Tuesday called the meeting for Thursday because I think the public needs to be aware of the widespread corruption and abuse in our department,” Holland says.
Holland was defeated in his bid for re-election by Rockhurst High School Vice Principal David Alvey, who assumes office next week. Holland and the fire department have been at loggerheads since an audit two years ago raised questions about the department’s shift trading. The fire department threw its support behind Alvey in the mayoral campaign.
Fire department officials did not return calls seeking comment about the report. But Alvey says he doesn’t believe the shift trades have cost taxpayers any money.
“This is, from my understanding, revenue neutral,” Alvey says. “If there is evidence to demonstrate that this is not revenue neutral and there is a cost to the Unified Government, then it's certainly something we need to address.”
He adds, “To describe this as evidence of widespread corruption is a gross misrepresentation of the issue.”
Alvey says the real issue is giving the fire and other government departments the resources they need to “fulfill the promise of good government” and “at the same time to broaden the tax base so we also provide very much needed tax relief to our citizens.”
But Holland says the report discloses not just corruption in the fire department. He says it reveals real dangers to public safety because the flip side of the shift trading is that some firefighters are working 13 out of 14 days in a row.
“Every day we roll a truck with an unqualified captain and without any rest is compromising the safety of everyone on that rig and our public,” Holland says.
He says he’s leaving office with no regrets about taking on the fire department, even though it may have cost him his chance for re-election.
“Honestly,” he says, “I'd do it all over again. I mean my job—I didn't go looking for corruption in the fire department. I stumbled upon it because I had the audacity to do a study to see how efficiently we were running and I stumbled upon this corruption and I didn't turn away from it. I leaned into it to see how we could fix it.”
Holland says he’s received two layers of feedback about the report: one from the firefighters, who are angry that the report was undertaken in the first place and made public; the other from citizens angry about the report’s findings.
Holland, a Methodist pastor, says he’s fine if the legacy for which he’s remembered is taking on the department. He says the truth is more important to him than his title.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.
Sam Zeff is KCUR's Metro reporter. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.