Eric Smith, the Deputy Fire Chief from Westland, Mich., will become Gloucester's first permanent fire chief in three years after passing the City Council's confirmation Tuesday night on a initial vote of six to three.
While Smith said he's excited to take the helm of the Gloucester Fire Department, he says he has a lot to learn in a new position and a new city.
When he gets here though, Smith said he'll talk with firefighters, residents, and the city administration and start thinking about how the department will move forward.
"The new shape of the department is going to need the full effort of the community, the administration, and firefighters all the way down to the newest guy in the door," said Smith.
Smith says he'll start around July 15, but his exact start date is still in the works.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the city will make the transition soon, allowing for a little overlap with current acting Fire Chief Robert DiPoli.
Councilors, meanwhile, said they'll get behind Smith as he starts his three-year term as fire chief, while some said the process, through rough produced a good candidate, other said the city had a solid candidate in spite of the process.
"What we have is a person qualified by the intent of the ordinance — and by the terms of his temperament, leadership style and experience," said Councilor Bruce Tobey, "Eric Smith will be a leader for change so we can break out of the paradigm of how we've always provided Fire Service."
Melissa Cox said the process, however flawed, yielded a good candidate. She said she didn't want to reward an effort that seemed pushed through, but said she supported Smith.
"I believe that we did get a good product out of this search," Cox said.
Councilor Steve LeBlanc said that his vote was improperly recorded at the ordinance and administration subcommittee Monday night. He said that he realized that after the meeting closed.
"After listening to members of the search committee and MRI, I came to this conclusion that Eric Smith was and is the best candidate for the position."
Sefatia Romeo Theken said that she voted no, not because of Smith but because of the ordinance. The committee, she said, made a mistake when they approved it with the "shall have three years deputy chief" language, she said.
"I have to vote no," Romeo Theken said. "We did it wrong because shall is shall."
Councilor Joe Ciolino moved to reconsider the initial 6-3 vote and councilors unanimously supported Smith's confirmation the second time around.
"I talked about clouds (around Smith's appointment)," said Councilor Greg Verga, "I hope this unanimous vote can help disperse the clouds."
When councilors cast votes Tuesday night, they closed the curtain on the city's first search for a fire chief outside the realm of state Civil Service regulations. And it ended a drawn-out and tangled 10-month process involving an eight-member local search committee and the city's New Hampshire -based consultant, Municipal Resources Inc.
After MRI narrowed a pool of 42 applicants to six semifinalists, and the Search Committee handed the mayor the names of the three finalists, Kirk chose Smith — a move that, within a week, touched off a series of questions over whether the Michigan deputy even met the search ordinance's qualification standard that said the chief "shall" have experience showing three years as a deputy chief or higher.
RIchard Maybury, a member of the committee, told the Council's Ordinance and Administration subcommittee Monday night that the panel checked with MRI frequently.
When Smith's qualifications came up during their review, he said members challenged the consultant, and MRI's answer satisfied them.
The committee finished its work when it sent three finalists — Smith, Gloucester Deputy Chief Steve Aiello and Falmouth Deputy Chief Glen Rogers — to Kirk. And after Kirk chose Smith, he signed onto a $113,548-a-year contract supplemented with $10,000 in moving expanses and other transition costs.
Last night ended the first Fire Chief search and gave the city it's first permanent Fire Chief since Barry McKay retired in March of 2009, after an MRI after action report on the Lorraine Fire. Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the confirmation marks the start of a new day for the city's Fire Department
"This is a new day in the Gloucester Fire Department," said Mayor Carolyn Kirk. "I fully expect the citizens of Gloucester, their elected officials and employees of the city to pull together and ensure he and the department are successful.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.