Just two weeks before three-year interim Chief Phil Dench retires from the Gloucester Fire Department, Mayor Carolyn Kirk says the city is poised to appoint an acting chief to succeed him.
She added, however, she has not decided who that will be. And she said she's now targeting late April or early May to name a new permanent chief, capping a search that has been in the works since last August.
The city's Fire Chief Search Committee trimmed its list of applicants for the permanent post down to 20 candidates last month, but still has several more steps left before it names finalists.
Kirk opened the city's first search for a new fire chief last August and had said six months would have been enough time, but provisions in the governing ordinance have slowed the search's progress. Critics, however, have questioned why Kirk didn't launch the search much sooner, given that the City Council voted last January to pull the chief's post out from under the state's Civil Service guidelines, and that Dench's retirement date is mandated by Civil Service; his last day coincides with his 65th birthday.
Kirk said the city is now looking at appointing one of the Fire Department's four deputy chiefs as an acting chief to fill Dench's seat until the city hires a new chief.
If that doesn't pan out, she said the city could hire an acting chief from outside the department. The acting chief, she said, will likely serve around three months.
"We're going to try to work out something with one of the deputies," she said.
The department already operates under an acting chief when the fire chief is on vacation. An acting chief, Kirk said, isn't intended to serve as long as an interim.
The city's ordinance, however, grants the mayor the authority to hire another interim chief without requiring council approval. When Dench retires in February, he will have served just a month short of three years as an interim chief after taking the reins from Barry McKay in March 2009.
City Council pulled the fire chief's position out from the Civil Service ranks last January, when it approved the new ordinance, opening the door for the chief's job to candidates from outside the department and the city.
"Hopefully we will be able to get the matter on the road to conclusion relatively soon," said city Personnel Director David Bain.
Bain, chairman of the search committee, said members began with a field of 41 applications. Of the remaining 20, Bain said, the search consultant — New Hamsphire-based Municipal Resources Inc., or MRI — will request additional written responses. Bain said he expects those responses to be in the search committee's hands over the next week.
While the committee is aiming to wrap the search up by May, Bain said the deadline still isn't certain at this time.
One committee member, meanwhile, has decided to recuse himself from the search.
Tom LoGrande, one of the two firefighters union representatives, said he's stepping off the committee because of potential conflicts of interest. The union, he said, will have someone to fill his seat before the committee's next meeting.
LoGrande said that because he's related to someone who could benefit or be harmed by his recommendations, he spoke with the State Ethics Commission about it. The commission told him he could remain on the committee provided he disclose it to the appointing authority. But the ordinance, he said, doesn't make clear who that is.
LoGrande added that he's stepping down before the committee makes recommendations concerning the candidates. Neither Bain nor LoGrande would comment Thursday on how many of the remaining candidates are from inside or outside the department.
From the 20, the committee will cut applicants down to as many as seven "finalists," each of whom will be entered into an MRI-run assessment center and psychological evaluation. That assessment center could cost $5,000 per candidate, officials have said.
After the assessment center, the search committee will hold public interviews with each finalist. The committee then narrows the list of finalists to between three and five — each of whom will then interview with Kirk, who will then make a recommendation to City Council. The mayor's recommendation will need City council confirmation.
The same ordinance being used in the fire chief search also governs the police chief search.
There, Michael Lane, who has also served nearly three years as interim chief since taking the reins in May 2009 from John Beaudette, retires this May. The city is poised to send out the request for proposals for a search consultant.
The Police Chief Search Committee has been formed as well, with Bain, as personnel director, joined by Dr. Richard Maybury, Doug MacArthur, Council President Jackie Hardy, former Councilor Steven Curcuru, Loretta Peres, police Detective Jeremiah Nicastro, police Lt. Joseph Fitzgerald, and Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Miles Schlicte.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.