Eric Smith, the deputy fire chief from suburban Detroit chosen by Mayor Carolyn Kirk to head Gloucester's Fire Department, got the City Council approvals he needed tonight to take the reins as the city's first permanent chief in more than three years.
Shrugging off concerns about whether Smith meets the qualification standards under the city's 2011 search ordinance, and a 3-0 negative recommendation from the Council's own Ordinance and Administration subcommittee, the full Council nonetheless voted 6-3 tonight to confirm Smith's appointment and his $113,548 tentatively signed annual contract that should keep Smith in place for the next three years.
Council President Jackie Hardy was joined by councilors Bruce Tobey, Joe Ciolino, Paul McGeary, Melissa Cox, Steve LeBlanc in voting for Smith's confirmation, with Council Vice President Sefatia Romeo Theken, Bob Whynott and Greg Verga standing opposed. After the vote, Ciolino then moved that the council ratify the confirmation unanimously, and the councilors agreed.
The meeting began with LeBlanc, one of the three Ordinance and Administration committee members who, 24 hours earlier, urged against Council approval of Smith's nomination, saying that, while he had concerns over the process, he had ultimately come to the conclusion that Eric Smith was "the best man for the position."
While Whynott had indicated he would not vote to approve any candidate from outside the city, Romeo Theken and Verga — along with Cox — had all raised questions regarding whether, having served one year as deputy chief and another as battalion chief with the fire department in Westland, Mich., a city of 84,000, met the city's ordinance's requirement that the new chief "shall" have at least three years experience as a "deputy chief or higher."
But Kirk, City Solicitor Suzanne Egan, members of the city's local Search Committee and representatives from the city's paid search consultant, the New Hampshire-based Municipal Resources Inc., all stood by the appointment, saying they considered Smith's experience was the equivalent of the ordinance mandate. They cited different structures in different departments around the country, and added that Smith had also served as an acing battalion chief — a role not listed on his resume.
Though Smith's newly approved contract calls for him to start on the job beginning this Sunday — July 1, the start of the new fiscal year — both Smith and Kirk said tonight they expected it will be another week or two before he steps into his new role. The department is currently being led by acting Chief Robert DiPoli, a retired former Needham chief who was tapped for the acting chief when Kirk ousted Gloucester Steven Aiello — one of the permanent chief finalists — from the acting role after a controversial Memorial Day firefighters' protest.
Smith will become the city's first permanent chief since the March 2009 retirement of Barry McKay in the aftermath of an MRI "After-Action" report on the Lorraine fire tragedy. Then-Deputy Phil Dench stepped in and served as interim chief for nearly three full years before retiring himself this past February,
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