The consulting firm that led the search for the Fire Department's first non-civil service chief said in a memo Tuesday to Mayor Carolyn Kirk that her choice to become the new chief has the needed command experience to qualify under the city's search ordinance.
Kirk on Tuesday night submitted the memo from Municipal Resources Inc. to the City Council, with her nomination of Eric Smith, a deputy fire chief in Westland, Mich., to become Gloucester's new permanent chief. The mayor sought to quell questions that Smith does not meet the new ordinance requirement for experience in a command position.
Adopted in January 2011, the ordinance broadening the options to candidates from outside the department requires three years experience as a deputy chief and gives the Fire Chief Search Committee authority to reconcile nomenclature differences.
Tuesday, MRI, which conducted the search for candidates and narrowed the field to five semifinalists, wrote that Kirk's choice to become chief "has served more than three years at ranks equivalent to or exceeding the position of deputy fire chief in Gloucester."
"It is the opinion of the MRI consulting team that Eric Smith demonstrated throughout the selection process that he is the best qualified candidate for the position," the personnel consulting company wrote to Kirk.
Kirk's search committee culled the field down to three finalists, including Smith. Gloucester added an assessment of technical knowledge and skills to the traditional interviewing, taken by each of the semifinalists.
In the six-page memo Kirk forwarded to the council, MRI explained that, in addition to the two years of qualifying experience on Smith's resume as a deputy chief and battalion chief, is another 11 months as an acting battalion chief. That's a title different from Gloucester's deputy chief's requirement, but in practice reflects a similar level of command responsibility, MRI maintains.
The memo was referred to the council's Ordinance and Administration subommittee, where the question of approving Smith's contract for $113,548 per year plus $10,000 in relocation costs and other amenities will be on the subcommittee's agenda next Monday night.
The earliest date the full council could get the subcommittee's recommendation and vote on ending three years of interim leadership and uncertainty would be Tuesday, June 26.
Smith's resume does not reflect time as "acting battalion chief," which has led councilors to question whether the city was setting a bad precedent by fudging the ordinance requirements in choosing its first chief via expansive search instead of internal promotion, as Civil Service requires.
But Kirk said Smith had served as an acting battalion chief for enough time to meet the requirement of the ordinance.
"If we have to produce the payroll records for this, we will," the mayor said in an email, saying that the pay level for the acting battalion's post will reflect the proper level of command authority. "I have no doubt that on this one measure he meets the qualification and has exceeded others.
"At every step of the process, which began with 42 applicants," Kirk said, "Eric Smith rose to the top and proved himself capable of taking the helm of the Gloucester Fire Department."
In the city's nine-member City Council, five votes are required to ratify the contract and conclude the appointment process; at least four councilors have expressed reservations about Smith's qualifications or the decision to break precedent by bringing in an outsider.
City voters in 2009 emphatically approved a referendum to take the police chief's selection out of Civil Service. The vote gave the council a foundation for deciding to pull the fire chief's position out as well in January 2011.
The firefighters union, however, wrote to Kirk last month saying that, while it was ready to work with an outsider, it saw "no valid reason" for her to choose one.
Gloucester Deputy Chief Steve Aiello, the acting chief until Kirk removed him from that role earlier this month for showing a lack of leadership and "conduct unbecoming" in the aftermath of a Memorial Day firefighters' protest, was also a finalist for the permanent post.
MRI is a Meredith, N.H., personnel agency for municipalities of the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states. Its memo addressing Smith's credentials and qualifications under the ordinance was written by MRI vice president Alan S. Gould.
In asserting that Smith had surpassed the required three years or equivalent as deputy chief in Westland, a suburb of Detroit with some 84,000 residents — three times the population of Gloucester — Gould wrote that Westland Fire Department rules and regulations state that "any 'acting' officer shall have the authority and responsibility as if the position were permanent."
Smith could once again not be reached Tuesday in Westland.
Kirk said she did not know why he had failed to make the legitimate claim of the essential extra time served as an acting battalion chief.
"A captain who is serving in the role of acting battalion chief is expected to perform all duties and responsibilities of the position," Gould wrote for MRI. "Eric Smith has served at the rank of deputy fire chief for a period of approximately eight months" in a force of 68, which MRI equated with being the second in command. MRI equated "deputy chief in Gloucester" with "battalion chief" in Westland; Gloucester has 73 uniformed firefighters.
"(Smith's) total service at the rank of deputy chief or equivalent is determined to be 37 months. The actual hours served in these ranks totals 7,381 hours; based on the normal Gloucester 42-hour work week, this equates to 3.38 years served," MRI wrote.
"Currently, Smith serves as the sole second-in-command of this 68-person department," MRI noted. "The MRI team also found that his experience as a licensed paramedic and paramedic instructor and coordinator will be of significant benefit to the city of Gloucester."
Smith has a master of science degree in technology studies and emergency management from Eastern Michigan University.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com.