In a back and forth that started in January, First Ward Columbia City Councilwoman Patricia Fowler and the IAFF Local 1055 Firefighters union have been arguing about Fowler's inability to meet the union's timeline for an endorsement interview.
Last week, the union and its political action committee (PAC) endorsed Fowler's opponent in the April election, Nick Knoth.
"The Columbia Professional Firefighters reached out to both candidates," union president Zack Privette emailed media outlets Feb. 8. "Unfortunately, our members were unable to hear directly from Councilperson Fowler due to her lack of ability to meet at mutually agreeable times. Instead, the councilwoman decided that her best course of action was to attempt to smear the members of the Columbia Professional Firefighters on social media, rather than find a mutually agreeable time."
Union leaders sought to meet with Ms. Fowler "during our normal business hours, Monday - Friday between 8 am and 5 pm," Privette explained on Fowler's official Facebook page. Meeting outside those hours would cause union members to "take extra time from their families or other obligations" and represent "exceptional accommodations for one candidate that would appear favoring," he added.
The workday time schedule was impossible for Ms. Fowler to meet in person, as she commutes for work to and from Platte City. A telephone or Zoom call, meanwhile, did not come up in the exchanges.
Over concerns about her inability to discuss union issues such as collective bargaining, Ms. Fowler told supporters on her Facebook page that she was not interested in the Local 1055 endorsement, regardless. She reiterated that position to the Columbia Heart Beat.
The Columbia City Charter places strict limits on interactions between elected Council members and city employees, union orotherwise. "A non-incumbent candidate does not have that restriction until they are sworn in," she added.
Instead, Fowler texted Privette that she would "continue to support the work of our city employees, including our firefighters. If any of your firefighters who live in the First Ward want to talk with me about an upcoming agenda item, I am happy to meet with them during [City Council] office hours," which individual Council members schedule accordingly.
The conversation heated up after she posted the text on Facebook, noting "I work full time in addition to serving as the First Ward City Council Member. I juggle my job responsibilities with my family responsibilities. The Firefighter’s Association, specifically their PAC, asked to meet with me and then insisted I had to meet their schedule of 8 to 5 during the work week."
Apparently taking umbrage with the term "insisted," union representatives scolded Ms. Fowler for "this unprovoked and unnecessary attack on our members, employees you claim to care about. We all expect better from our elected representatives!"
Knoth, meanwhile, said he was "proud of and thankful for the endorsement of Columbia’s Firefighters and for their support of the issues I am championing."