City Council continues fire chief hiring debate


ARCADIA -- City Fire Chief Hiram Rutherford will retire in a few months, on Sept. 9. Yet City Council members still disagree on how to select someone to take his place.

In order to settle the issue, the council agreed Tuesday to meet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7, to hammer out the issue. They will discuss how involved council members want to be in selecting the next fire chief.

The council first debated who would hire his replacement when Rutherford announced his resignation in January. Rutherford has been with the Arcadia Fire Department for 30 years and was fire chief the last five years.

Current city codes, last revised in 1973, call for the city administrator to "appoint and, when necessary for the good of the city, remove all officers and employees of the city under his jurisdiction." This includes the city fire chief.

Mayor Paul Whitlock and councilman Dick Fazzone said at the Jan. 18 meeting they felt it was the city adminstrator's job to hire the new fire chief.

"The only person I want to hire and fire is the city administrator," Whitlock said.

However, the other three council members -- Sharon Goodman, Robert Heine Sr. and Dr. Roosevelt Johnson -- said they wanted to play a more active role in choosing Rutherford's replacement.

"Any employee who works for the City of Arcadia works for the five councilmen," declared Councilman Heine.

Special city advisor and former city recorder Margaret Way also pointed out that it had become customary for the city administrator to hire the fire chief subject to the approval of the city council.

Whitlock said the council would have to change the code if it intended to take the power to hire the fire chief. The code says nothing about the hiring of a fire chief being subject to the approval of the council. Nothing was settled at the Jan. 18 meeting.

At this week's meeting, Goodman said she was upset about alleged "backstabbing" going on among the city administration and expressed concerns about staff attempting to sway some council members' opinions. She said that such behavior needed to stop. She also emphasized that every council member was entitled to his or her opinion and supported Fazzone's and Whitlock's differences of opinion from the others.

The one thing all council members agreed on is they want to hire from local firefighters.

"Let's look for qualified individuals from within," Johnson said.

Fazzone agreed, saying, "I think there's a general consensus that we've got people who are very capable of doing this job. We've got some who are 'chief' material."

He did not seem concerned about the council's disagreement about the issue.

"I think it's healthy for a government agency to have disagreement from time to time," Fazzone said. "That's part of the democratic process."

He was optimistic the council would come to an agreement.

"I think we're going to resolve it," Fazzone said. "Maybe there's some compromise there and that's my hope. The whole thing is being able to give and take a little bit and I hope we can resolve the issue."

He did note that in the end, "majority rules."

The Council will meet for an hour before next month's City Council meeting to talk about the extent of involvement of the City Council in the hiring of the new fire chief.

You can e-mail Laura A. Schmid at lschmid@sun-herald.com.


By LAURA A. SCHMID

DeSoto News Editor