Spring City struggling to decide salary, duties of police/fire chief
By Doug Lowe
SPRING CITY—At a packed city council meeting last Thursday, the majority of the 40 or so people there came to protest the rumored removal of Clarke Christensen as chief of the volunteer fire department.
As the meeting got underway, Mayor Cynthia DeGray made an opening statement to pour some oil on the troubled water by countering some “false rumors circulating around town.”
Speaking of an “employee planning meeting” with Chief Christensen on Feb. 18, DeGray said that she and Joe McGriff, the councilman responsible for police matters, wanted Clarke to “return to full-time as a police officer” and train a replacement fire chief to take over once the new fiscal year arrived on the first of July.
Saying that nothing has been done yet, and that input would be needed from the entire council, DeGray explained that because “Chief Christensen’s salary is funded 100 percent from the police department budget,” she and McGriff believed that “100 percent of his time should be spent as a police officer.”
DeGray also spoke of the resignation of Councilman Tom Brunner. After thanking him for his service, she announced that a public notice would soon invite residents interested in the vacant seat to submit proper paper work, obtained from the city office, before the deadline. After that, interviews will be conducted at the next council meeting, April 2, when Brunner’s replacement will be chosen.
The meeting remained fairly calm and orderly until the mayor called on Cody Harmer, the councilman responsible for fire department matters, for his report. Speaking softly, Harmer expressed his concern about any plan to replace Christensen as the fire chief anytime soon.
Saying, “His are really big shoes to fill,” Harmer stated opposition to losing the chief’s experience and leadership. When pressed for a time table, he balked, but allowed as how he once had thought that three to five years might be enough for one or more of the current volunteers to finally have enough training and experience to take over the chief’s responsibilities.
Councilman Craig Clark expressed the belief that some members of the volunteer fire department were prepared enough to take on the job of chief, saying they might feel “uncomfortable” in the position, but would get used to it.
Harmer countered that at present, no one in the department, except Chief Christensen, had the certification to be what is called an “Engine Boss” (an “ENGB” in fire-fighting parlance). And, that until the department had at least one, preferably more, with the certification, Chief Christensen’s experience and leadership would be needed.
Still, the mayor, along with council members McGriff and Clark, wanted to focus on the financial problem of the Chief’s salary coming totally out of the police budget while he spent time on fire department matters. In support of her concern, DeGray said, “Lots of people have told me they want to see more policing.”
Harmer suggested that the chief start keeping a record of how he divided his time between both departments, so that future council discussions could have that information during their deliberations.
At several points during the meeting, audience members broke in with loud comments that at one point became so numerous that DeGray had to remind the audience that their time came later on the agenda, with the current items being council member’s reports and discussion.
At that point, Councilman Chris Anderson tried to reassure everyone that no final decision was close in the matter of the Chief wearing two hats, because the matter had not yet received any consideration or discussion by the entire council.
One or two in the audience spoke out in support the mayor’s concern that more policing was needed in town. Yet, one gentleman pointed out that when the city tried to get 24-hour police coverage, by having three part-time police officers work eight hour shirts, the result wasn’t good.
In the end, perhaps some of those in the audience were satisfied that they had been given time to express their support for the evening’s most popular position—keeping the city’s police chief also in place as its fire chief.