The Augusta Commission has an appointment it needs to keep.
City Administrator Fred Russell has recommended interim Fire Chief Chris James lose the “interim” label and be appointed the city’s next full fire chief.
We did not have the pleasure of meeting the other two candidates, at least one of whom gave James a run for his money. But we know Chris James well. And neither Russell nor the commission could do better than to promote this guy.
James, a 25-year employee of the force and a respected graduate of Leadership Augusta, began healing a wounded department immediately upon being given command. He lends credibility, integrity, professionalism and stability to a department desperately in need of it all. As a department veteran, he knows the ropes and can hit the ground running. Already has, really.
Americans have an abiding desire to love and respect our emergency service providers. In the aftermath of 9-11, firefighters, especially, became more appreciated than ever. In recent years, the shine wore off a bit here, with cronyism and apparent corruption at the top levels of the department. Among other things, a top official – the brother of the chief – was essentially allowed to run a private business out of the office, even using the department as a referral agency at fire scenes to get the business of unsuspecting fire victims.
The chief, his brother and two top deputies ultimately were encouraged out the door.
We urge the Augusta Commission to not only confirm James as chief, but to do it with zeal – and to send an unambiguous message to the beleaguered good men and women of the Augusta Fire Department.
Tell them the community cares about them. Tell them the days of neglect, favoritism and cronyism are over. Point to their new chief with pride and confidence. Let them know that merit, loyalty, hard work and years of service mean something. Tell them it means everything. Point to Chris James as Exhibit A.
Tell them it’s a new day.
And remind them that the city took its time and looked all over the country and did its homework and that, in the end, they found the best candidate right here, in their own ranks.
Show them that the pride is back.