Prince George's County Council members plan to hold an emergency meeting Monday in a last-ditch attempt to iron out the differences between the county executive's office and the volunteer fire commission.
County Executive Rushern Baker and the county's 1,300 volunteer firefighters are torn over Baker's effort to overhaul the commission and strip its members of their oversight of roughly $12 million of the county's fire and emergency management budget.
Baker issued an executive order in September to reorganize the commission's makeup to include three volunteer firefighters, three career firefighters and three civilians. All would be nominated by the county executive and appointed by the council, rather than elected from the volunteer ranks as they are now. And for the first time, all commission members would be required to live in the county.
Accompanying legislation would place the 8 percent of the fire budget overseen by the commission under Fire Chief Mark Bashoor's purview.
Bashoor guaranteed the commission's budget would remain intact, but firefighters say they have dutifully managed their finances for more than four decades and there's no reason for the change.
Glenn Sherman, president of the county's Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said the commission can only conclude that the move is a power grab by the county fire department.
Councilwoman Mary Lehman, D-Laurel, called Baker's proposal "unnecessarily aggressive and overly antagonistic."
Council members lamented the short time frame left to act on the executive order and legislation. The entire council must take an up or down vote on the executive order by Nov. 15, and if the council doesn't take action on its accompanying legislation by Tuesday, the bill would be killed for the year.
But Baker's staff refused to yield in an attempt to push the measure through this year.
"It's the right thing to do," said Brad Frome, Baker's deputy chief of staff. "We feel that it's the proper legislation for the county, and there's no intent to harm the volunteers."
The legislation would likely diversify an all-white commission working in a predominantly black county, and reorganizing the volunteer structure would create a more efficient budget for the Fire/EMS department.
"When you merge the line items of the budget that are exactly the same, you eliminate that fiefdom of stovepipes, of competing priorities and competing agendas," Bashoor said. "Will it be something that's easy? No. It's painful, especially for the volunteers. But in the end, nothing is being taken away from them."