West Metro Drama Continues
By Andrew Richter
Well, the West Metro Fire Department drama just goes on and on….
At the February 20 board meeting, the process of hiring a new permanent fire chief was the top issue. From the Sun Post;
Sarah Larson has been the district’s acting chief since June, when she was appointed during former Chief Scott Crandall’s medical leave. A separation agreement with Crandall was approved Sept. 19. The Board of Directors finalized a draft of the chief job posting and discussed whether to recruit internally or externally.
In other words, the Board was discussing whether or not they were just going to give the job to Larson. Both sides then wrangled over what to do.
“If we do go internal, we should follow the same process,” New Hope City Manager Kirk McDonald said. “There should be a formal application, formal interview, background check and psychological check.” When Crandall was appointed chief, the Fire Board had not required a formal application process, but rather made the announcement as a Board that he was chosen.
So there was no competitive process….even internally??
“We have a duty to be very careful in this process and include a wide pool of candidates,” New Hope City Council Representative Dan Stauner said. “An external posting may bring a fresh perspective.” ReNae Bowman agreed with Stauner saying that “if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.” “…Make sure the process is open and it pulls the very best that our tax payers pay for. The very best,” she said. “No matter who it is, the board is open-minded enough whether it’s internal or not, the best candidate will rise to the surface.”
Crystal City Council Representative Mark Hoffmann encouraged the board members to look at the history of the district and think about hiring internally. “When we have an internal candidate who is good and ready to go, you’re foolish not to [hire internally],” he said. “You know what you’re doing, you’re covering your bases. Everybody who wants to can apply, but only one person will come to the top of my mind. One person has the qualifications.”
Stauner said that although he knows the acting chief has done a good job, it doesn’t mean he wants to “foreclose other options” until he knows what they are. “I think we have a set of skills as a board that can handle the [hiring] process,” he said. “We can do it as a board instead of delegate it. We need to do it for our own credibility and our own ability to look our citizens in the face and say ‘we’ve done the best we can. We’ve made the right choice.’”
“If involvement of the board members isn’t important, why are we here would be the logical question,” added Bowman. “I would ask that we understand about setting the tone and relying on the people. It really makes the board look like it’s not essential. If we ourselves aren’t involved, why are we here? In order to mend the cities, we need to do this together – it’s part of the healing process that needs to take place. Through this process, we are making our declarative statement that we will heal and go forward.”
However, McDonald said that the opportunity to hire internally would still call for an extensive interview process and if the board was not satisfied with the candidates, the job would be posted externally.
What are the odds of that?
“Anne [Norris, Crystal City Manager] and I have worked with Sarah for 10 months and it’s been a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Her communication is unbelievable. We meet twice a month and go over operation issues and budget issues. There are no gimmicks or cover ups. I hate to lose what we have. I feel we’ve moved forward in a positive direction since last June.”
So then the vote came;
It was 4 to 3 in favor of an internal post. Anne Norris, Mark Hoffman, John Elder, and Kirk McDonald voted to keep the position in house, and ReNae Bowman, Gary Larant, and Dan Stauner voted to open up the process.
After the vote, Bowman had one more thing to say;
“I would like to tender my resignation, effective immediately,” she said, gathering up her belongings. “For all the name-calling directed at me, for all of the e-mails, for all of the work and hours and blood, sweat and tears and for us to refuse to open it up …
“This is a group that does not want to hear itself and keep itself closed. I will not be forced, so I am out. I have appreciated my time with everybody but I refuse to be insulted like I have been insulted. Now I’m a totally private citizen. I’ve laid on the sword for us to close this process when we’ve had a discussion. God bless you people.”
Now, I’m sure there were many who danced in the streets upon learning of Bowman’s resignation. But, let’s ignore her for a minute and think about the issue. My personal differences with the former mayor not withstanding, I am quite concerned with the refusal to open up the process. When an NFL team fires their head coach, do they do an “internal search” for a new coach or do interview whoever they can? Do they just promote the offensive coordinator? Of course not.
I have no knowledge on Sarah Larson’s ability to do the job. This isn’t about her. It’s about what I see in government way too much; someone leaves and the “next person in line” just gets promoted.
Speaking of opening up the process; with Bowman’s departure I now call on John Elder to resign as well. Let’s now OPEN UP the process of the appointed citizen representatives to the Fire Board. Previously, the councils just appointed themselves. It’s time to open up both the hiring process and the citizen representation. What do you say Crystal and New Hope city councils?????