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Fire Chief Search Still in Limbo

A disagreement between the Police and Fire Commission and the Common Council over the scope and funding of a search means no progress has been made in replacing Fire Chief Allen LaConte, who retired in March.

It’s been 10 months since Fire Chief Allen LaConte announced his retirement and the city has yet to begin the hiring process to find his replacement.

Assistant Fire Chief Steve Howard has been filling the role in the interim, but a funding dispute between the Police and Fire Commission and the Common Council has kept the fire department from moving forward. The PFC wants to hold a nationwide search, while half the council wants to see an internal candidate promoted.

Police and Fire Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Gemignani said she plans to bring the fire chief search funding request back to the Finance Committee in October. In the meantime, she plans to set up a meeting with the new city administrator,

“Until then, we are still in a holding pattern,” Gemignani said during Monday’s PFC meeting.

LaConte officially left the fire department in March. The council, in efforts to save money from the 2012 budget, decided to leave the position unfunded until June.

But when it came time to start the hiring process, the council did not want to provide the funds for the PFC — an independent, volunteer board that operates under state statutes — to conduct a nationwide search. The commission is in charge of all hiring and firing decisions at the police and fire departments.

Council Split on Hiring Search Firm

The council had a split vote on hiring the search firm for $16,900. The Waukesha Fire Department has the money in its budget since it's no longer paying a chief's salary. Mayor Jeff Scrima cast the deciding vote against hiring a search firm, breaking a 7-7 tie on the council.

Aldermen hinted during the April meeting that they didn’t see the need to spend money for a nationwide search because there were qualified candidates in the department for promotion.

Alderman Terry Thieme said he couldn’t support “to tell me that there is a good candidate here.”

The only alderman who was not present at the meeting was Brian White, who passed away in early May because of a heart condition.

The search firm is needed so the city will have a large pool of candidates to draw from, Gemigani said at a previous meeting.

Gemignani said in April while the commission “appreciates” the Common Council’s suggestions to keep the search for a new fire chief internally, "we respectfully decline to do so.”

“We as a commission do not have access to staff,” she said. “It is therefore necessary for a search firm and its attended manpower to be hired to take us through the extensive and time-intensive process of recruiting, screening, testing and vetting of candidates who are the best qualified for the job and to make sure that the process is in compliance with all the federal, state and local laws so as to not expose the commission or the city to any potential litigation.”

Atron September 27, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Why should the City waste resources when they have a fine gentleman at the helm now? This fire department stuff isn't rocket science. All you need is someone who is committed to provide the best customer service possible with the available funds to accomplish same and be a leader and a team player in the whole process. What is there not to like?

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