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Sat, April 20

Friday Catchall: Officials' missteps stoked acrimony

The Friday Catchall:

• EMOTIONS are truly running high in the aftermath of the deaths of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots. Specifically, the grieving process has shifted from the losses of June 30 to matters of principle and security for the future.

Earlier this week we lauded House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, for his idea to craft three bills - one to make all 19 Hotshots full-time equivalent for benefits (only six had full-time status, which gives lifetime benefits to survivors); a second to cover the city's costs (such as having the state pay the city's retirement benefits related to the deaths under the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System); and a third bill to preserve the "sacred ground" where these men died.

In that editorial we also stated, "The conflict should never have gone on this long." We were referring to the disagreement between Andrew Ashcraft's widow, Juliann, and the City of Prescott.

Basically, the Hotshot crew had three different employee types - full-time, seasonal, and Mr. Ashcraft.

The first is simple: Full-time workers get full-time benefits. The second also is simple: seasonal is part-time without benefits. Ashcraft worked full-time yet had no benefits, particularly death benefits. I am no labor lawyer, but to have it both ways - an employee working the equivalent of full-time, but classified as part-time, raises a red flag.

Whether this was a mistake or by design, we cannot believe the city has let the tension get to the level it has or let it get this far.

What should the collective "they" have done, or what should they still do? Listen.

• SILENT is what you are when you listen (both are spelled with the same letters). To listen to complaints is to diffuse 99 percent of them. Through that, the person complaining feels heard and you, in turn, have the chance to learn something you did not previously know.

Example: The widow of Eric Marsh, Amanda, went before the council on Tuesday to express her displeasure over the city's release of personnel and personal information about the firefighters.

What did not happen is for someone there to explain that the City Council members cannot respond to Call to the Public. They could have, however, closed the meeting and invited Mrs. Marsh to sit down with them and talk about the media's Freedom of Information requests for the information. Laws that cover meetings and public records are clear; the explanation of such may not have been.

The same goes for Mrs. Ashcraft's complaints. Clamming up is not always the best solution, whether or not you believe the law is binding your hands.

It also begs the question of standing on legal ground versus standing for morality, ethics and doing the right thing.

The opposite of clamming up also is not the best solution either. For instance, city Public Information Officer Pete Wertheim said in Thursday's edition of the Courier, "We're not IBM. If we have employees die, we can't open up the checkbook and make it all right. We have to abide by the law."

Further, in a time of high tension, Mayor Marlin Kuykendall said, "(Ashcraft is) a neat little lady... but money took hold in this situation real fast. This is big bucks when it's all over - big bucks."

Both would do well to think before saying such things. Are they wrong? Not necessarily, but they come across as insensitive - especially the mayor's comments. They smack of condescension and hinting that she is only out for money, when I see it as Mrs. Ashcraft working for the security of herself and her four children - as well as a matter of principle.

Again, call it doing the right thing.

• HEALING, NOW - Tobin's ideas (the three bills) are great and need to be approved and inked sooner than later. That is because the families need solutions before the next legislative session convenes.

With all of this said, though, I have to add that this entire state of affairs makes me grieve ... for the widows and the children, the city, and us as a society.

We are better than this, people.

We must give justice to the widowed and the fatherless.

And, if this continues, it will only divide and harm our community, more than any fire did or can.

• ELUSIVE - Many people are wondering how much money the families will get from the fundraisers, also not forgetting the victims in Yarnell too.

We are finding the totals and details are slow in coming - as many charities still are counting money as well as receiving donations. Some events have not even happened yet.

There is no reason at this point to think that the organizations are not being fair. For example, one is working to make sure its millions are distributed without tax problems for the recipients. Another will be paying for health insurance for a year.

Here at The Daily Courier, we are committed to finding these answers for the community and especially the Hotshots' dependents. Watch for updates as information becomes available.


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