A finding from the State Ethics Commission that said two firefighters cannot serve on the city's Fire Chief Search Committee has raised another bump in the rough road toward choosing the city's next fire chief.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Monday she's confident the city can salvage the rocky search process, and move forward with six semifinalists headed for an assessment session later this month.
City Personnel Director David Bain, who is heading the local search committee, said the City Council has moved to clarify the status of the committee, and will recommend some changes to the process.
In the meantime, the New Hampshire-based consulting firm Municipal Resources Inc. has whittled the search from 41 applicants to six semifinalists who will participate in an assessment later this month before a series of public interviews.
While neither Bain nor Kirk would confirm or deny who the semifinalists are, sources close to the search told the Times on Monday that there are four candidates from outside the department and two in-house candidates — Stephen Aiello and Miles Schlichte.
Aiello, a deputy, was named by Kirk in February as acting chief to run the department after the Feb. 29 retirement of three-year interim Chief Phil Dench.
In addition to serving as a deputy chief, Schlichte is also the city's emergency management director.
As to the search process, the City Council last week approved a revised ordinance under an emergency preamble that addressed the Ethics Commission's concerns at its last meeting.
The commission, said Tom LoGrande, one of the two firefighters initially placed on the committee, saw the firefighters had no authority to whom they could voice possible conflicts of interest. He said he stepped off the committee in February because of that.
The firefighters' union had elected both LoGrande and Aiello to the committee according to the ordinance. But, an electing body, Bain said, isn't an appointing authority to whom one of the firefighters could disclose a conflict of interest.
Bain said the ethics commission advised LoGrande and Tom Aiello to step down until the city resolved the ordinance. The revised new ordinance states that, after the union elects two members, the mayor will formally appoint them.
The new, full order still needs the mayor to sign off on it. Both LoGrande and Tom Aiello should be able to return to the committee at a meeting later this month. Their absence, Bain said, came at a time where it didn't slow the process down much.
"We're looking forward to getting back on and finishing what we've started," LoGrande said.
But the union's election still needs mayoral approval and Kirk said she wants to ensure the union puts forward the name of at least one paramedic to serve on the search committee. Neither LoGrande or Tom Aiello, she said, has the certification.
The department's paramedics respond to the majority of calls, and need to contribute to the search process, Kirk said.
"It's in the best interest of the city to have a paramedic on the search committee," added Kirk, noting that the department's ambulance corps amounts to a revenue stream of $1 million-plus annually.
Firefighters union president Phil Bouchie said Monday he hasn't heard directly from the mayor about the needed election approval.
"Until I get some kind of direct contact from the mayor's office, I have no comment on (Kirk's call for a paramedic on the panel)," he said.
But, he added, the city ordinance says the union will chose who it wants to sit on the committee. A re-election, he said, shouldn't be necessary, as the ordinance is designed to stop any undue influence by the mayor.
The whole process, Bouchie said, is "getting ridiculous."
Whether or not the firefighters return to the committee, Kirk said she will appoint members of the department to sit on her interview panel at the end of the process.
The snag over the ethics concern — reportedly raised by a citizen member of the committee, sources said Monday — is the latest of several in a tangled search that began last August.
Kirk has maintained that provisions in the search ordinance, which was modeled after Somerville's fire chief selection ordinance, have snagged the search.
Critics however, have questioned why the city didn't launch the search when the City Council removed the fire chief's post from state civil service guidelines.
Dench's retirement date was mandated by civil service, and coincided with his 65th birthday. But his contract as interim chief carried to that date as well, Kirk said Monday, noting that she was confident at the time that a search could be carried out within six months.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.