Debate smolders over federal firefighter grant
By Bob Okon email@example.com August 19, 2012 5:22PM
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:20AM
JOLIET — A $2 million federal grant to hire firefighters likely is to remain a controversial topic for the Joliet City Council this week.
The council meets Monday and Tuesday, and the federal grant is on the agenda for a vote that was delayed earlier this month.
Some council members have voiced concern that accepting the federal money aimed at beefing up fire departments would tie the city to a grant requirement that it keep its firefighter force at 210. Council members and some neighborhood leaders have pointed to a severe manpower shortage in the police department, although Joliet plans to hire more police next year, too.
New questions also are being raised about the timing of a decision to extend an old hiring list used to hire firefighters while the grant was being pursued. Mayor Thomas Giarrante’s grandson has moved up on the list since it was first implemented in February 2007 and stands to be hired if the grant is accepted.
The list was extended to save on the cost of new testing while the city was in a hiring freeze.
Councilwoman Jan Quillman said she and other council members did not know that the fire department was pursuing the grant, which will pay for eight new firefighters, when the council voted in February to extend the list for another two years.
“I had no idea,” said Quillman, who has been seeking more information about the timing of the grant application. Council members learned of the grant in late July when city staff announced that it had been awarded.
Councilman John Gerl, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the grant was not discussed when the committee voted to recommend extending the list. But, Gerl added, the pursuit of grants typically are not discussed with the council until they are awarded.
Gerl said city staff is constantly pursuing federal and state grants to supplement city funding.
“There are so many grants out there that if you brought everything to the governing board for approval you’d never get any of them done,” he said.
Meanwhile, more community leaders are lining up to speak at this week’s council meetings about the disbanding of the city’s neighborhood police units so officers could be shifted to other patrols amid a manpower shortage.
Georgene Williams, with the South Broadway Neighborhood Association, said several representatives from community groups plan to speak at both the Monday and Tuesday meetings.
“We want to show support for our police department,” Williams said. “These (neighborhood) officers helped us immensely. We always knew where to find them.”