Change can be hard.
Some people are adaptable and adjust to change easily. Other people resist change with all their might.
The same is true of organizations. Some organizations adapt to the changing world around them, transform themselves and go on to thrive. Other organizations fight against change at every turn and that becomes their downfall.
It should come as no surprise that I am talking about change in the context of the Gloucester Fire Department. Instituting change within this organization is as tough a battle we as a city will fight. There is a full-fledged campaign underway to block the appointment of a highly qualified and professional leader who can take this department into the 21st century and restore the department's pride back into the community.
A petition signed by citizens has been submitted to the City Clerk's office calling for overturning the appointment of Eric Smith as the next Fire Chief and advocating for the internal candidate. There was the highly visible protest at the solemn Memorial Day observance. A good old-fashioned campaign sign sprung up at the Rotary urging people to call their city councilor about the chief pick. The sign was removed by DPW.
Now, the oldest campaign trick in the book is being used and that is to attack the credentials of the person you don't want to win. Municipal Resources, Inc. cleared Deputy Chief Smith's resume as meeting the qualifications. This was confirmed by the search committee in their review, and he was passed forward to my office — where we not only saw that he met the qualifications, he exceeded them in many ways.
We will answer any and all questions about Deputy Chief Smith's experience, education, and leadership integrity. He himself will appear in the city during City Council review. The Administration's original timeframe was to try and get the appointment wrapped up by this Monday, but that would have given the Council less than a week to review it.
We decided to proceed with an abundance of caution and make sure the Council gets the full two weeks they normally take to confirm appointments. This was made clear in the communication to the Council. To say we postponed because of Smith's qualifications is to have a flyaway imagination.
I get that change is hard but we can't have the community brawl alone on the island anymore. Every news story goes out on the Internet.
Think about the conversations I have been having with Eric Smith this week. Let me just say that I have emphasized to him that there are many Gloucester firefighters and firefighter/paramedics who come to work and give of their talent and their compassion as they tend to the needs of residents in their homes in their most vulnerable moments. Many want change and are hungry for good leadership.
I have no vendetta. I have read the After-Action reports. I have read the Fire Department audit report.
I have taken personnal action against behavior that is intolerable, and have won on appeal through Civil Service.
The organization needs to change. One path to change is to fight it at every turn; the other path to change it to embrace it, and the Gloucester Fire Department can transform itself and restore pride back into the community.
It remains to be seen what path will be chosen from here.
Carolyn Kirk is mayor of the city of Gloucester.