City leaders continue to support their decision in not allowing Belton firefighters to be on the clock during their annual Labor Day weekend “boot block” fundraiser despite strenuous efforts from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42.
Fire Captain Steve Kratofil made a personal appearance before the Belton City Council during their regular meeting July 23, pleading with city leaders to change their minds about the fundraiser benefiting the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“This has never been about pay for us,” Kratofil said. “I don’t understand why this is a fight. I don’t get it and I just hope, taking the legality out of it, it’s a permission thing. We’ve always done this and we don’t see anything wrong with it, and we hope you don’t either.”
Belton Mayor Jeff Davis tried to bring comfort to the situation.
“This has been tough for all of us, and I want you to know that,” Davis said. “I really want to be emphatic about that we have good firefighters, and we know that, and that hasn’t been an issue with the council. Every councilman here greatly respects our firefighters and what they do.”
Locally, the charity supports 12 families in Belton and approximately 18 others throughout Cass County.
Belton firefighters have also been the top fundraisers in the Kansas City region, raising between $9,000-$15,000 annually for the organization.
The dispute arose after council members gave Kratofil approval in April allowing the boot block to be held Aug. 30-Sept. 2 the same way it has been done for years without any opposition. Kratofil said he was surprised after he was notified this summer that he would need to get special permission for firefighters to be on the clock during the fund raising next month.
At the city’s July 9 meeting, Kratofil went before the council to get permission but was denied.
“There’s a policy issue and there is a legal issue involved. No one has any problem whatsoever with the charity, the only question is whether the city employees should be paid while they are raising money for that and on-duty,” said City Administrator Ron Trivitt, following the meeting July 9. “It had been allowed in the past, but we didn’t have that city attorney opinion in the past, either.”
The opinion submitted by City Attorney Aaron March stated Article 6, Section 25 of the Missouri Constitution would prevent the city from paying the firefighters for doing work that uniquely and exclusively benefits the MDA, and that the city council cannot authorize payment for this work without finding there is a legitimate city service being performed.
“The city attorney further stated that city employees may only be paid in exchange for actual service to the city,” Trivitt said. “This position is confirmed in Attorney General Opinion No. 35-69. City employees are free to volunteer while off duty to work for the benefit of the MDA fundraiser or any other charity.”
Mayor Davis addressed the issue following remarks during the special appearance segment from Kratofil and Attorney Richard AuBuchon, who represents MDA at the statewide level.
“My promise to the firefighters is that it’s a new way that we’re going to do business here,” Davis said. “We are going to negotiate in good faith all of this is because we care. We’ve gone to great lengths to try to do the right thing.”
Firefighters are still allowed to do the fundraiser on their own time, and Kratofil has stated publicly that they intend to carry out the fundraiser.
“It’s for a city purpose – it’s for our citizens – it’s your firemen being firemen. It’s what we do,” Kratofil said.
Belton firefighters have participated in the boot block in conjunction with the IAFF for at least 30 years. In the time he has been with the department in the last 13 years, Kratofil says it has never been an issue that firefighters stay on the clock.
He said their participation in the boot block doesn’t interrupt the department response times. In the event of an emergency during the collection, Kratofil said firefighters would get right in their vehicles and go.