If city councilors tonight confirm Westland, Mich., Deputy Fire Chief Eric Smith as Gloucester's next chief, they will do it despite a unanimous, negative recommendation delivered by members of the Ordinance and Administration Subcommittee.
Committee members and Councilors Steven LeBlanc, Sefatia Romeo Theken and Bob Whynott voted 3-0 against the full council approving Smith in a contentious meeting Monday night.
The three councilors said Smith did not meet the requirements of the fire chief search ordinance and took issue with the search process. The ordinance calls for three years experience as deputy chief or a higher rank. They said that city administration, Search Committee and Municipal Resources Inc.'s confirmation that he has equivalent experience doesn't add up to meeting the standards of the ordinance.
"The fact is, it's not just qualification," said Romeo-Theken. "What bothers me is that these three years never came forward until the last hour."
Councilors Paul McGeary, Joe Ciolino and Bruce Tobey, who sat in for Melissa Cox, on the Budget and Finance subcommittee unanimously approved Smith's tentatively approved contract during the panels' joint meeting.
Romeo-Theken asked for comment from residents as well as city officials during the meeting. Smith and his family attended the meeting.
Smith passed through search consultant MRI and the city's eight-member Fire Chief Search committee, which are treating his battalion role and previous time as an acting battalion chief — not noted on the resume — as equivalent experience for the job.
Smith scored highest on a series of assessment tests, beating out four other semifinalists, including fellow finalist and Gloucester Deputy Chief Steve Aiello, Search Committee members have noted.
A letter to the council from MRI states that he served as acting battalion chief, battalion chief and deputy chief. And, it states, taking into account the 56-hour work week in Michigan, he has 3.38 years of experience, fitted into a 42-hour week.
Whynott said the consultant's accounting was trying to make Smith belatedly fit the ordinance any way it could find.
"It should have been done right, and it wasn't done right, and it shouldn't be made to fit afterward," Whynott said.
Alan Gould and Doug Bliss of MRI said that Smith matches up to the ordinance. Fire Department structures, they said, are different across the nation. In some departments, a captain matches the level of Gloucester's four deputies, while Smith's deputy chief's job is the only such title, leaving him as the department's second in command.
Even within the state, the MRI representatives said, departments have different names for the same position. And Westland's battalion chief's positions have the same responsibilities as the city's deputy chiefs.
"I am telling you that, in my experience, the position of battalion chief is equivalent to deputy chief in Gloucester," said Bliss. "It's equivalent in scope and responsibility. I have no doubt in my mind that this gentleman (Smith) has skill sets."
Those skill sets come in three cumulative years of experience, City Solicitor Suzanne Egan argued. Egan said Smith had the experience in total time. The ordinance, she said, also leaves it up to the consultant and the search committee to determine a candidate's eligibility.
City Councilor Paul McGeary of the Budget and Finance Subcommittee said the council shouldn't treat the ordinance hyper-literally.
"There has to be room for interpretation," he said, "I think this hyper-literalism is from people who don't want a candidate from outside the Fire Department."
He said he believes Smith meets the three-year requirement.
Smith signed a $113,548 per year contract, with $10,000 in relocation costs and other amenities, contingent on council approval. He was one of 42 applicants for the post.
"If the council votes no (forcing a new search), would you apply again?" Councilor Steve LeBlanc asked Smith.
Smith said that he would.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.