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Ocean City

Year begins with near overhaul of IAFF leadership

(Jan. 3, 2014) Ocean City’s firefighters’ union has started the new year with a near-complete overhaul of its elected leadership, a change that may stem in part from the aftermath of the controversy that wracked the Ocean City Fire Department a year ago.

Effective Jan. 1, Ryan Whittington assumed the post of President of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4269 after winning a contested election that saw Whittington challenge the union’s current vice president, Hugh Hommel, for the top position.

“I ran on the positive light that I want to bring to the career fire division and to the city as a whole,” Whittington said Tuesday, the morning after the IAFF membership’s votes were tallied.

“Our union is currently at a standstill, I guess you could say. There were some new ideas and positive things that myself and others wanted to bring to the organization.”

Elections in the IAFF are staggered for two-year terms. Aside from Whittington and Hommel, who will continue for another year as vice president, the executive committee now consists of Treasurer Mike Ellingsworth, Secretary Amanda Bunting, Board Members R.C. Evans and Ryan Womer, and former President Mike Maykrantz, who will be serving a one-year term as a board member.

Whittington joined the OCFD in 2005 as a firefighter/EMT and went on to serve as the public information officer for the department in the four years before his promotion to the Office of the Fire Marshal this past year.

Throughout his campaign for the union presidency, Whittington apparently had to deflect charges from within the IAFF that he was “too close” to OCFD Chief Chris Larmore, with whom the union has had a contentious relationship.

In an email sent to the union’s membership, and later obtained by this newspaper, Whittington asserted that his work with Larmore as the department’s PIO did not constitute being a mouthpiece, as had been alleged.

“These were not things the Chief just said ‘yes’ to,” Whittington wrote in the email. “At times, I had to plead my case knowing that the men and women of the Fire/EMS Division were counting on me to get approval for what we were fighting for.”

“If you have any questions, or someone makes a comment about me being ‘in’ with the Chief or some other statement that is not true, please call me so we can talk about it,” Whittington continued. “A leader communicates, regardless of the ill-feelings or personal convictions.”

Whittington’s approach would stand in contrast to the way in which the union previously handled its dispute with Larmore in the Fall of 2012 over the promotional process for captains. Larmore ended up promoting two candidates, one from within and one from outside the union, but the IAFF claimed that only one position had been adequately advertised.

Although the city declined the IAFF’s grievance in the case, an apparent rumor campaign began shortly thereafter accusing Larmore of sexual misconduct with the non-union candidate, who was a woman, resulting in her filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Although the city settled the issue and the complaint was withdrawn, the city’s labor attorneys – Miles & Stockbridge – conducted an extensive investigation in order to maintain the city’s position of no harm should the case be pressed to court.

Despite Public Information Act requests by this newspaper, the city has declined to release any of the documents produced by Miles & Stockbridge in the matter, citing attorney-client privilege. However, the city did reveal that its legal bills for the incident totaled $100,106.57.

But further documentation acquired by this newspaper indicated that those involved in the apparent scheme to discredit Larmore, which included at least one city councilman who received electoral support from the IAFF, “did not reveal their sources” despite threats of legal consequence.

Although he did not refer to that controversy specifically, Whittington said he would be placing a new emphasis on open and transparent communication.

“It’s important for us to have that communication with the city and with management and, most importantly, with the community,” he said.

When reached for comment, Larmore said he was “looking forward to working with Ryan.”

“He’s a great young man, extremely intelligent, and I think he’ll do an excellent job,” Larmore said.

 

 

Incoming IAFF President Ryan Whittington, foreground, is pictured with Asst. Chief Chris Shaffer during recent operations at fire headquarters.

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