Augusta narrowing options for new fire chief

Interim leader, 3 others under consideration

 

Without a permanent chief or emergency management director since the October retirements of four of the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department’s top leaders, the city is moving closer to finding a replacement for Howard Willis.

A November job posting that went out nationwide netted 42 applicants, and the city has narrowed them down to four, Administrator Fred Russell said.

“The pool looks good, but obviously all I’ve done is looked at pieces of paper,” said Russell, declining to identify the four until the city invites finalists to Augusta for interviews.

One of the four wouldn’t have to travel far. Acting Fire Chief Chris James confirmed that he remains in the running for the job.

James has said it’s been an uphill struggle to restore morale and accomplish other needed objectives implemented at the direction of new Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan in a department in which the chief, the chief’s brother and two deputy chiefs agreed to retire under pressure and in the midst of investigations into misuse of city property and other policy violations. If he doesn’t get the job, however, he’ll “lick (his) wounds” and remain with the force he’s served since 1987, James said.

Possibly weighing on the selection of a chief is the city’s need to fill the position of Emergency Management Agency director, a job required by Georgia law. Willis held both titles, although Russell appointed another firefighter, Batallion Chief Wayne Taylor, as the interim EMA director.

Augusta hasn’t had a separate EMA director since the 2002 resignation of Dave Dlugolenski. He replaced Pam Tucker, who left for a similar job in Columbia County.

The city hasn’t advertised for the EMA slot, and Russell said he remains in favor of one person holding both.

The salary range listed on Augusta’s fire chief ad is $70,000 to $130,000. Russell said he hopes to bring candidates in for interviews early next year and have a new chief in place by March.

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