Alan Gould, who helped leading Gloucester's fire chief search through the city's New Hampshire-based consulting firm, may be within his rights to say that his Municipal Resources Inc. considers its work on behalf of Gloucester a "confidential" matter for now.
But MRI had better be prepared to come to next Tuesday night's City Council meeting to explain specifically how it clearly viewed Westland, Mich., Deputy Fire Chief Eric Smith as a viable candidate for the job as Gloucester's new permanent fire chief — a candidacy that led to Mayor Carolyn Kirk choosing him for the post.
Because on the surface, there are now dire questions as to how Smith's one year as Westland's lone deputy chief and another year as one of that department's battalion commanders somehow adds up to the three years' experience as a "deputy chief or higher" clearly outlined as a qualification requirement under the city's January 2011 ordinance that set in motion what has become perhaps the most drawn-out, discombobulated hiring process in the Gloucester's recent history.
Kirk, who sought and got cancellation of last night's special City Council meeting called solely to give her the chance to submit Smith's nomination and agreed-upon contract, was saying all the right things Tuesday night when Councilors Sefatia Romeo Theken and Bob Whynott cited the questions now swirling around Smith's qualifications.
"We're satisfied he has the equivalent experience," Kirk said — and she may be right.
Indeed, there are a lot of issues to keep in mind as this latest Fire Department leadership calamity moves forward. Those include local Search Committee member Russell Hobbs' notation that Smith posted the highest score among the six semifinalists put an MRI-run assessment center — at a city cost of $5,000 apiece. That was no doubt among the reasons the Search Committee forwarded his name, along with those of then-acting chief Steve Aiello and Falmouth Deputy Chief Glen Rogers, to the mayor as finalists.
But for all the sense that Smith may well have "equivalent" experience — perhaps partly through his previously serving as a captain of the member Fire Department in Westland, a city of 84,000 some 28 miles west of Detroit — and for all of Kirk's beliefs that, yes, the Westland department is structured differently from Gloucester's, with just one deputy who is second-in-command, as opposed to Gloucester's four deputies who are members of the firefighters' union, and therefore aligned more with the department's rank-and-file than the chief, there are some very basic issues in play here.
The qualification requirements — literally that the city's new permanent 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" — are not mere guidelines. They are included in a full-fledged city ordinance.
The word "shall" does not mean "should" or "maybe." And, unlike many help-wanted ads or other recruitment proposals, the ordinance does not state "or equivalent experience."
That's why MRI must provide a representative to next week's Council meeting to state clearly why the municipal services group — which also found Gloucester its new acting chief, retired Needham Fire Department leader Robert DiPoli — found that Smith's qualifying experience passed muster, and why he was vetted through the search process.
This is not about whether Gloucester's new chief should come from inside or outside the department and/or the city.
It is about simply finding Gloucester the very best candidate who applied for the job. And that may well be Smith. But it's also about ensuring that all parties played by the same set of rules. That includes the candidates, the consulting firm — and the mayor herself.
Right now, Smith's qualifications just don't add up to the mandates of the city's ordinance — and only MRI and the mayor can clearly explain why they do.