Mayor could face swarm of citizens tonight
By Doug Lowe
SPRING CITY—Kicking a hornet’s nest is something politicians typically try to avoid.
Yet Cynthia DeGray, the new mayor of Spring City, could face a swarm of citizens at the city council tonight at 7 p.m. because of apparent moves to have Clarke Christensen, the police and fire chief, step down as fire chief and take a pay cut as police chief.
The motive for the changes appears to have been cost-saving. And it appears the mayor may be backing away from dismissing Christensen.
Christensen himself says after a meeting with DeGray and Joe McGriff, the councilman who oversees the police department, “I definitely felt I had been fired on the spot as fire chief, and might also be replaced, in the next fiscal year, by a younger, less experienced and less expensive chief of police.”
DeGray did not invite the Cody Harmer, the council liaison with the fire department, when she and McGriff met with Christensen. “In effect, they met with the fire chief without my knowledge and consent,” Harmer says.
Harmer’s view is that DeGray and McGriff, both newcomers to city government, acted on misinformation about the city budget, and if he had been invited to the meeting, the whole misunderstanding could have been avoided.
Christensen says that after he recommended some members of the volunteer fire department who might take over as fire chief, McGriff “pulled out some budget papers, pointed to the police department line item and told me I would have to agree to an $11,000 salary cut or be replaced by someone younger and willing to work for less.”
Christensen says he explained to McGriff that while the police department budget is $71,000, his salary is $54,000. The rest is a contingency fund for calling in reserve officers, if needed.
According to Christensen, year after year, most of the $17,000 difference between his salary and the total budget has rolled over to next budget because it hasn’t been spent. The talk of the $11,000 cut could have reflected a misunderstanding of the budget numbers, he says.
Growing out of the apparent threats to Christensens job, Councilman Tom Brunner, a retired law enforcement officer from California and a supporter of the police chief, has turned in a resignation letter to DeGray.
“I have not returned any of the mayor’s phone calls because I don’t want to hear anymore slights or insults from her, nor do I want to be talked into remaining on the council where other members have flat out called me a liar,” says Brunner.
DeGray says the controversy “has all been a big misunderstanding.” And McGriff contends that the Spring City rumor mill has the facts wrong.
Responding to reactions among the town’s fire fighters and some citizens, DeGray met with the fire crew to explain her position and field questions. Reportedly, she back pedaled on the idea that Christensen had already been replaced as fire chief.
Paul Penrod, assistant fire chief, says he doesn’t want a younger, less experienced person calling the shots at a fire, accident or other public safety emergency.
“Experience, vast experience is what Chief Christensen brought and still brings. And not just with fire, but also emergency medical situations. His depth of knowledge and ability to mentor and inspire would be hard to beat,” Penrod says.