So let's get this straight: Gloucester's now eight-month search for a new fire chief — already a mere two months beyond its initial deadline, and more than a year past when City Council set the stage for its beginning — remains snagged over which firefighters should have a role in choosing their own chief?
That's right. The firefighters' union says Mayor Carolyn Kirk is to blame for the latest holdup because she supposedly failed to either approve the union's recommended choices, failed to notify the union of her decision in a timely manner, or both.
The mayor, for her part, says she indeed had her decision hand-delivered to one of the union leaders. And as the recognized appointing authority under a tweaked city ordinance, she stands by her insistence that at least one of the Gloucester Fire Department representatives on the search committee be a paramedic. Neither of those initially recommended by the union were paramedics.
There is a context to Kirk's call for the department's ambulance squads to have a role in any search — if the department is to have one at all. That's because the ambulance service brings in more than $1 million in city revenue annually, and a majority of all of the department's calls are for medical or emergency responses.
But the truth is, nobody should care about any of that at this point. The city's only goal — the mayor's, the union's, and the search committee's — must be to once again get this entire, embarrassing process moving forward, before even most of the semifinalists either give up on their applications or take jobs elsewhere.
That should change this weekend, when members of the search committee are finally slated to begin the public interviews of the semifinalists. And it's important that the committee members who are in place at least keep to that schedule and send the candidates on to the planned assessment center regardless of the political wranglings swirling around them.
We know that two of the semifinalists are acting Fire Chief Steve Aiello, and Deputy Chief and city Emergency Management Director Miles Schlichte. We do not yet know what qualified outside candidates are in the mix — perhaps some who are already experienced chiefs and whom have dealt with issues similar to Gloucester's contract and minimum manning calamities. And we may never know whether these incessant delays and mayoral-department bickerings may have cost the city one or more leading candidates who have either grown tired of waiting, or thrown up their hands at Gloucester's entire process.
What we do know is that, with budgeting for the next fiscal year already in an advanced stage, Gloucester needs a permanent fire chief who can take the bull by the horns, look to restructure the department to the city's needs — and at least find a way to regularly open the Bay View and perhaps even the Magnolia stations to provide the kind of fire protection Gloucester residents need and deserve.
It's long past time to put public safety ahead of political posturing — once and for all.