Members of the City Council's Ordinance and Administration subcommittee say they are looking into whether the command experience of Mayor Carolyn Kirk's pick for the city's permanent fire chief's job meets the city ordinance requirements for the job.
But Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Tuesday that Westland, Mich., Deputy Fire Chief Eric Smith has the experience needed — that rank structure in that department doesn't match up to Gloucester's Fire Department, and the Westland deputy chief has different responsibilities.
"We're satisfied he has the equivalent experience," Kirk said.
Smith signed his contract with the city on May 30, and if the City Council confirms his appointment, he'll take the helm of the Fire Department on July 1.
While the city's Fire Chief Search Committee named him a finalist, his resume, on the surface, places him a year short of the ordinance's requirement that the next chief have three years' leadership experience as a deputy chief or higher.
"The Fire Chief shall have an associate's degree in Fire Sciences or related field and hold a minimum rank of Deputy Chief or higher for a minimum of three years in a fire-fighting environment," the ordinance reads.
Smith's resume lists him as serving for a year as a "battalion chief" in Westland from 2010 through 2011, then as "deputy fire chief" from 2011 to the present day.
The Westland Fire Department has one deputy chief and several battalion chiefs. Gloucester's department has four deputy chiefs. In Westland, the deputy chief is outside the firefighters' union; in Gloucester, only the chief works outside the workplace protections of the union, while all of the deputy chiefs are union members.
City Council Ordinance and Administration subcommittee Chairwoman Sefatia Romeo Theken said Tuesday that her panel will look into Smith's qualifications and the chief search ordinance, which governed the search process since it began in August 2011, when members review Smith's appointment and contract.
The City Council will hold a special meeting Thursday at 6:40 p.m. in the School Committee chambers at Fuller School, and is expected to vote to forward the appointment and planned Smith contract to the O&A committee.
That committee — comprised of Romeo Theken, at-large councilor Robert Whynott and Ward 3 Councilor Steve LeBlanc — holds its own special meeting next Monday night.
Romeo Theken said she's going to figure out and look to address the requirement concerns at the Monday meeting.
Whynott said the qualifications are "troubling," but that he wouldn't have voted to approve an outside candidate in the first place. Whynott said he didn't support taking the chief's position out of Civil Service when the council approved doing that in January 2011.
"(I) figured when they started doing this," he said, "there would never be a Gloucester chief."
If Kirk's choice doesn't meet the requirements, the city may have to go back to the drawing board with the search, Whynott said.
The Times couldn't reach Smith in Michigan for comment on this story Tuesday.
Kirk had said she chose Smith because his department represented a good image of what a "21st century fire department" looks like. Smith served in the Westland for 21 years, starting as a line firefighter in 1991, and moved up from sergeant to captain before becoming battalion chief. He holds a B.A in Public Safety from Concordia University in Ann Arbor.
Search Committee Member Russell Hobbs said Tuesday that search consultant Municipal Resources Inc., which whittled the initial 41 applicants for the job down to six semifinalists, indicated that Smith's experience was "equivalent" to the requirements spelled out in the city's search ordinance. The search committee made the final recommendation of three finalists — Smith, Falmouth Deputy Fire Chief Glen Rogers, and Gloucester's Steven Aiello, the deputy chief who was also serving as acting chief until being ousted by Kirk on Monday.
Alan Gould, who headed the MRI team in charge of the search, said the company doesn't discuss its work with client cities.
"Anything we do with our clients is considered confidential," he said.
At Westland, Smith is currently second in command of a department that includes 70 employees and four fire stations.
Smith supervises three shift commanders, and develops and manages a $12.3 million budget that also carries the firefighters' pension costs. His department is the third busiest in terms of calls in Michigan's Wayne County.
Smith is also a certified paramedic, a paramedic instructor, and a hazardous-material response specialist, according to his resume. Westland, 28 miles west of Detroit, is a city of some 84,000 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Smith performed better than Falmouth Fire Chief Glen Rogers, Deputy Fire Chief Steven Aiello, Retired Providence RI Fire Chief Timothy McDaniel, and Deputy Fire Chief Miles Schlichte in an assessment center held at Addison Gilbert Hospital, according to a letter written by Hobbs that appeared in Tuesday's Times. In that assessment, Hobbs wrote, Smith scored 467.83 out of a possible 500 in the examination.
The assessment center includes a written exam, tactical exercises, superior-subordinate exercises, a leaderless group exercise and an oral presentation.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.