Ohio Commission Passes Fire Chief Hiring Ordinance

GALLIPOLIS, Ohio -- During the first regular Gallipolis City Commission meeting of the new year, the commission passed an ordinance amending the city's civil service rules for the appointment and promotion of members of the Gallipolis Police and Fire Departments.

The discussion surrounding this portion of the city's legislation began during a previous regular meeting of the commission held on December 6 in which Gallipolis City Manager Randy Finney discussed possible changes to the ordinance relating to the employment of the fire chief of the Gallipolis Fire Department and, thereby, the appointment of the Gallipolis Police Chief.

The current ordinance states that a fire or police chief be chosen from among officers of a rank of lieutenant or higher within their respective departments who have at least 10 years of experience as a firefighter/police officer and three years of experience as an officer.

Finney proposed no change to this portion of the legislation but requested that additional language be utilized to allow the city manager to publicize the position if no viable candidates are found among the officers of each department. Finney also proposed that the need for chief candidates to pass a civil service exam be eliminated from the ordinance.

During a special meeting held on December 20, the commission again discussed the fire/police chief ordinance and Commissioner Steve Wallis indicated that he believed the ordinance should be further amended to allow anyone with adequate experience, within or outside the department, to apply for the fire chief's position from the beginning of the application process. He further indicated that first preference should not necessarily be given to the officers within each department, as this would limit the selection process from the beginning.

Following this discussion, the commission passed the first reading of an ordinance amending the appointment clause by a four to one vote -- Wallis voted against the ordinance as presented. This amended ordinance states that the promotion of both the fire and police chief within the city of Gallipolis be made from all those firefighters or police officers within the Gallipolis Fire Department and Gallipolis Police Department with at least 10 years of experience within their respective departments. In addition, the amended ordinance also removes the need for those applying for the chief's position to take a civil service exam and further states that, if no qualified candidates are found within the department, the position will be open for application from the public.

During the regular meeting on Tuesday, the second reading of the ordinance was discussed by the commission before a crowd of city residents, members and supporters of the Gallipolis Police and Fire Departments.

Commissioner Matt Johnson moved to approve the second reading of the ordinance, and Commissioner Jim Cozza seconded that motion.

During the discussion of the ordinance, Wallis moved to amend the ordinance as presented and thereby push the ordinance back into a first reading.

"I would just make it say this, as opposed to what it actually reads now ... 'selection to police chief shall be made from officers with a minimum of 10 years of experience as a police officer. The city manager, using an appropriate evaluation process, will interview each applicant and [the] most qualified candidate [will be] subject to the approval of the Gallipolis City Commission' and then when we go to the fire one, its identical," Wallis said. "I open it up for applicants. We want the best candidate that we can get for our departments period."

Gallipolis City Manager Randy Finney discussed his opposition to Wallis' proposed amendment.

"You know that I am opposed to that. That's your all's decision on what you want to do, but I am opposed to that because I think the people in the fire department should have first choice on this position. They work in the fire department, and our most qualified candidates are probably there," Finney said.

Wallis reported that he has conceded his desire to amend the ordinance to state that applicants must have 20 years of experience to be considered for the chief's position in each department and, due to this, he wanted the commission to work with him on his proposed amendment.

"I think we need to open this up. We may have some terribly profound qualified person come into the community, and they could be beneficial to us, and we're not going to pay attention to that? That's not doing the best thing for our citizens, and that's the way I feel about it," he said.

Johnson stated that it was his understanding that controversy surrounding the ordinance had been settled during the last meeting of the commission, and he discussed the fact that the decision the commission makes in regard to the fire chief position could have repercussions in all of the city's departments.

"I'm afraid that you're forcing the issue that can have greater impact other than just the fire department," Johnson said. "Let's stay with the fire department. If these guys don't have somebody they trust, how many of them are going to walk? We can't have a fire department without any firemen."

Johnson also pointed to the number of firefighters who were present during the meeting on Tuesday.

"I'm looking out here, and that's what they're all here for," Johnson said.

Wallis stated that he was glad that the firefighters were present and he wanted them to see the process of amending the ordinance.

"Well, they're here because they are not happy with the process," Johnson replied, drawing applause from those gathered at the meeting. "Let's let him [the city manager] do his deal. If we don't like who he brings to us, that's when we [make a decision]. We don't do it prior to the fact. We don't do it prior to any investigation. We don't tell him, other than what's in the verbage [of the ordinance], how to go about his job."

Following the discussion, there was no second to Wallis' motion to amend the ordinance.

The second reading of the ordinance was passed by a four-to-one vote. Commissioners Matt Johnson, Jim Cozza, Mike Brown and Jay Cremeens voted to approve the ordinance, while Wallis voted against the ordinance.

The ordinance states that "the chief of police/fire chief shall be made from all those officers/firefighters with a minimum of 10 years of experience as a police officer/firefighter within the Gallipolis Police Department/Gallipolis Fire Department. The city manager, using an appropriate evaluating process, will interview each applicant and select the most appropriate candidate subject to approval by the Gallipolis City Commission. If there are no qualified candidates, then the position will be open to the public and the city manager, using an appropriate evaluating process, will interview each qualified candidate and select the most appropriate candidate subject to approval of the Gallipolis City Commission."

The ordinance will be in effect 30 days after the date of its passage.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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