Pelham Council reinstates firefighters’ raises

The Pelham City Council voted Monday night to reinstate six firefighter’s education incentive pay raises.

Six firefighter’s pay increases were suspended after it was discovered their bachelor’s degrees were from an unaccredited distance learning institution, Warren National University, formerly Kennedy-Western University, based in Wyoming.

The six firefighters enrolled at KWU at the suggestion of former Pelham Fire Chief Gary Waters, who also received his bachelor’s degree there. Waters said he learned about KWU through the U.S. Army Department of Education.

According to a 1994 ordinance regarding education pay increases for city employees, any full-time employee who has received a four-year degree in a job-related area from an accredited college, university or professional school is eligible for the incentive.

The six firefighters will now be grandfathered into the new ordinance. They will also receive back pay from the time the pay raises were suspended.

“What we’ve done is closed the loophole from the previous ordinance,” said Councilmember Teresa Nichols.

The question of WNU’s accreditation status has been a focus of debate. WNU was registered with the Wyoming Department of Education, which allowed the school to legally conduct business in the state. However, WNU was never approved by an accreditation organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, said Nichols at a meeting about the issue in May.

As of March 31, WNU ceased operation, according to its Web site.

When the new ordinance was written and first read at the Aug. 3 council meeting, Waters said he was troubled by the belated nature in which the council had approached the matter, an issue that Council President Mike Dickens disagreed with.

“The sense of urgency for the education incentive pay is second-to-none. I don’t think … in all my years on the council, I’ve had a more difficult decision to make,” Dickens said. “Where do you start, where do you begin and where do you end. That’s the challenge. It’s just been a tough issue.”