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Fire District 5 seeks input on new chief hiring

Jackson County Fire District No. 5 is looking for a new chief, and the district will hold a special public meeting at 3:30 p.m. today, Sept. 22, to gather input on the process amid concerns that the hiring process is taking too long.

Chief Dan Marshall announced in July that he will retire at the end of the year after 30 years in the position.

The meeting will be held at district headquarters, 5811 S. Pacific Highway. Comments will be taken on three hiring options proposed by the board during a Tuesday meeting, but the public can suggest modifications or new methods.

Board member Bill Robertson said he’d like to see the board meet once per week to deal with tasks on the agenda, including the hiring process and selecting the next leader.

Board members agreed last week to look at more frequent sessions once a notice for the position is posted. Board meetings are held once per month on the third Tuesday. An August board meeting to deal with the selection process failed to draw a quorum.

Aaron Bustard, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2596, said during Tuesday's meeting there is a concern about a lack of leadership for the department if the process takes a long time.

“My sense is that the people want to know who is following this gentleman,” said board attorney Martial Henault, pointing to Marshall.

“I have so struggled with the process. I want it to be clean and to be open,” said Robertson.

Members discussed whether the meeting should include a public hearing or whether testimony during public comment periods would suffice.

“It would be better to have fuller public participation,” said Henault, who urged a public hearing.

At a study session on Sept. 4, selection options were reviewed and revised. Board member Darby Stricker raised concerns then about a letter from the district’s union that recommended current Division Chief Darin Welburn as qualified for the position. The district’s Volunteer Association sent a similar letter.

Stricker said at the study session the letters should be submitted at a later date.

Bustard said the union is not backing just one individual, adding that the letter is a general statement regarding the strengths of one person.

“I think that we have qualified in-house candidates,” said Bustard.

Board members would make a final selection under whatever method is chosen. Salary range for the position has not been established.

Appointment by the board from within is one option. If there is more than one candidate, assessment of factors such as strategic planning, budgeting, management style and public relations would be made.

A second option would be to hire an outside firm to do recruitment of both internal and external candidates. Assessments would be done, and the firm would recommend three to five finalists. Cost of an outside firm would be $10,000 to $12,000, said Marshall. Initial phases of the search could be done by a company for $5,000 to $7,000, with the board and staff finishing the process.

Another option would be recruitment of both internal and external candidates by board and staff, who would review applications and conduct interviews.

“It’s important to take both internal and external applications,” said Stricker.

In other business, the board accepted the resignation of board member Denis Knowles. The district will post the opening and accept applications until 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13. An appointment is expected at the Oct. 21 meeting.

Information on meetings, hiring proposals and the board opening can be found on the district website, www.jcfd5.com.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.