By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
Three strikes and you’re out in baseball, but does the same theory apply when you’re trying to hire a fire chief?
The Isle of Palms City Council was expected to take a third swing at choosing a new leader for its Fire Department at its regular meeting March 23, two weeks after a somewhat contentious joint meeting of the Council’s Personnel and Public Safety committees. The job apparently has been offered to an unnamed outside candidate, as well as to Battalion Chief Richard Hathaway, but both of them decided against taking the position. The process, according to Council Member Randy Bell, chair of the Public Safety Committee, had evolved into “a mess.”
Meanwhile, a March 7 letter to City Administrator Desiree Fragoso, signed by 30 full-time, part-time and volunteer members of the Fire Department, asked that Battalion Chief Jason Smith be considered for the job. Personnel Committee Chair John Moye didn’t agree; he presented a motion at the March 9 meeting to start over by considering the original 10 finalists – but only outside candidates.
“We got a letter from the Fire Department people voicing their support for a single candidate. Why would we not open it up to internal candidates that are in the top 10?” Council Member Ryan Buckhannon responded, and Councilman Jimmy Ward added that “It looks like to me they’re all supporting one internal candidate.”
“The discussion we had previously, the Fire Department was concerned that there was not support for one candidate,” Moye answered. “The letter to me doesn’t change the fact.”
Buckhannon questioned why unanimous consent from the Council was necessary, but Moye answered that “I’m not going to entertain that discussion.”
Councilman Randy Bell supported Moye’s motion, as did Councilman Phillip Pounds, while Buckhannon and Ward voted against it.
“If we focus on an internal candidate, we’re not going to have unanimous consent,” Bell said. “I have a very difficult time with a letter being circulated under the presumption that everybody willfully signed the letter. This process has evolved into a mess. It’s our responsibility to still
determine who the best candidate is. And to John’s point, I tend to agree we should be focusing on an outside candidate.”
Fragoso pointed out that because there were concerns about whether members of the Fire Department had input into the process, she hired a human resources consultant to conduct one-onone interviews “to try to identify some issues that have percolated during this process that we may or may not have been aware of that need to be addressed.” The consultants talked with firefighters March 15, 16 and 17.
“Why are we hiring an outside consultant without talking to the Personnel and Public Safety committees?” Ward asked “I don’t like the way this is going at all.”
Following the 3-2 vote in favor of considering only outside candidates, Ward presented a motion to recommend hiring Smith as the new Isle of Palms fire chief. The measure was supported by Buckhannon, but Pounds, Bell and Moye voted against it.
Not long after, Fragoso released a statement indicating that Police Chief Kevin Cornett would temporarily oversee both departments.
“This is an effort to provide additional support to all FD personnel and a solid leadership structure and chain of command in the Fire Department until a new fire chief is appointed by Council,” the statement read.
When he was asked later about the hiring process, Moye released only the following statement: “I’m proud that our Council is unified in the goal to make the decision that’s in the best interest of the entire community.”