A contentious March 16 meeting of the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District (NACFD) governing board featured plenty of debate but no action on fire administration leadership.
Key considerations involved the possible removal of Tim King from his post as interim Fire Chief and adopting a plan to recruit a new full time fire chief. Board members debated both items over the course of two hours and did nothing on either matter.
Board member Sue Wilkin proposed returning King to his previous position as Battalion Commander. Board member Jim Bailey pushed Wilkin to justify the demotion.
Wilkin said King failed to do as she directed in preparation of an item on the meeting agenda.
“He changed it completely and I’d like to know why,” Wilkin said. “That’s not what a chief does. A chief does not set the agenda. The board does.”
Fire District attorney Bill Whittington acknowledged that he was the person who changed and broadened the agenda item in question to give the board greater latitude for its contemplation.
Wilkin responded that King should have “caught it” and nullified Whittington’s handling of the item. King said it’s not his position to question the district’s legal counsel.
Wilkin’s motion to demote King died for lack of a second.
King also corrected Board Chairman Patty Lewis who said he didn’t want to serve as interim chief and wanted to “get back to his truck.” King said he doesn’t mind handling administrative duties to transition the district to its next fire chief, but he said he is not interested in the position full time, primarily due to the political instability of the governing board and infighting amongst its members.
King drew support from roughly a dozen firefighters who attended the meeting. They told Board members that King is doing a good job as interim chief and that he should remain in the position to maintain continuity in the ongoing budget preparation process.
There was even more debate over how the district should select its next fire chief. Board members Bailey and Mike Collins favor hiring an outside firm to recruit a list of finalists while Lewis, Wilkin and Victor Riccardi think the Board can handle the job on its own through internal promotion.
Bailey and Collins said use of an outside firm weeds out potential bias and ensures that the district gets the best fire chief possible. The other board members questioned the ability and track record of Human Resource Strategies LLC and objected to spending roughly $18,000 to retain the firm’s services.
Whittington, however, has advised board members that the firm is respected, “highly capable” of hiring a chief and that the cost is in line for such recruiting jobs.
After King indicated he wasn’t interested in the full time Chief’s job, board members asked firefighters in the audience if they could serve as chief. Battalion Chief Don Dallman said he can handle most of the Chief’s duties but that there are “certain qualifications I don’t meet.”
Riccardi switched the focus to Battalion Chief Jason Scott as a potential chief.
“Hands down I’m probably the best candidate for the job,” Scott said. Scott indicated he is interested in applying through a competitive process to select the best chief for the district but that he did not want to be “handed, or given anything.”
Scott conceded there may be better candidates outside the district to serve as chief. Scott and all the firefighters in attendance expressed support for the Bailey-Collins proposal to engage in outside recruiting.
Riccardi, Wilkin and Lewis, however, wouldn’t budge.
“We’re the bitches,” Lewis said, acknowledging they were essentially vetoing the will of the firefighter’s after asking their input.
Collins, in an exchange with Riccardi implied that Riccardi, Wilkin and Riccardi violated Arizona Open Meeting Law by discussing the fire chief matter outside a public meeting.
Collins: Did you guys talk about this earlier?
Riccardi: Are you assuming something or accusing us of something?
Collins: I’m just asking.
Riccardi: No, we have not talked about it, but we may have mentioned it, yes.
Collins: So you have talked about it.
Scott expressed frustration with the board stalemate.
“I think we’re going in circles here and we’re spinning our wheels,” Scott said. He noted the Board has failed to begin a recruiting process, more than four months after former Chief Pat Moore gave resignation notice last November.
“We’re going backwards,” Scott said. “We’re further away today than we were when Chief Moore left.”
Scott and Captain Ed Eads joined King in his previous criticism of infighting among the bickering board and resulting publicity.
“It’s brought a black eye to us as an organization, the things that we hear on the (media) reports,” Scott said. “I think it’s a disservice to us the way that you guys present yourself in the meetings and the unprofessionalism. We don’t want that to reflect on us.”
“You’re scaring me to death,” Eads told board members. Eads said he and the other firefighters want stability and the proper environment to support their families and protect their futures.