Fire Chief Screening Committee Selected

by beth on October 5, 2018

This week, the Board of Selectmen appointed members to the committee to help recruit and screen candidates for the next Chief of the Southborough Fire Department.

The screening committee will consist of Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus, neighboring Marlborough Fire Chief Kevin Breen, and three residents, working with a consultant for the Town. (You can read their full charge here.) The board appointed the following residents:

  • Jason Malinowski (Chair of the Public Safety Committee)
  • Janey Maney (former Advisory Committee member)
  • Sam Stivers (long-time Advisory member)

On Tuesday night, the board interviewed five candidates for the committee. Also applying were retired SFD Lieutenant John Kendall and former selectman Bill Boland.

During the interviews, Selectman Brian Shifrin asked how candidates felt about hiring from within versus external candidates.

Maney indicated it would depend on the needs assessment. She followed that the department is very well thought of, giving internal candidates “a leg up”. But she said you always need to compare to outside “to keep yourselves honest”, “but why wouldn’t we look at people who have served the Town well in the past”.

Stivers agreed, but said there needs to be a hard assessment of applicants. If someone external “shows up head and shoulders above the rest it’s hard to reject that result.” But if the decision is very close, he said he believed “you’ve got to give the nod to the internal candidate”.

Malinowski agreed. But he added that selectmen need to decide, “is the culture good and you’re just trying to continue that? Or are you looking to make a wholesale change?”

Boland recommended that the board do an appraisal of internal candidates first and determine if they may have a very strong internal candidate before going outside. Referring to past snafus in the process of hiring Town chiefs, he warned:

We have developed a reputation of having bias towards internal candidates through our last three public safety hirings. And if the opinion is out there – “It’s an inside job, they’re just going through the motions” – you won’t get a good pool of candidates. . .

It can get a little embarassing sometimes if you decide at the end an internal candidate isn’t getting advanced and then all of a sudden, almost change the rules to do that.

Some of you are familiar with some of the things that happened through our last thing.

I’m a person who says, “Let’s hire the best candidate.” But if he’s there, why go outside?

The former selectman told the board if they are really open to outside candidates they need to clearly signal that. And they need to determine their criteria – what level is required to qualify for the position. He noted that ranks have very different positions in local departments.

Boland also recommended polling the department to see if they want a new direction. Pointing to the new facility being built, he said they could very well be going in a new direction.

Selectmen easily agreed on appointing Malinowski, a part-time Lieutenant/EMT for the Boxborough Fire Department. The four attending members had to talk through selecting the other two candidates.

Kendall spoke about his experience as a former recruit instructor at the Fire Academy and 28 years on the SFD. Kendall acknowledged having a son who is a firefighter and paramedic for the SFD. He said he could be objective since his son won’t be applying. Still, members expressed concern about a conflict.

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf explained that she worried about internal conflicts and wouldn’t want to see that pressure on a family member. Chair Lisa Braccio said that she wished there wasn’t conflict because Kendall would bring great value.

In the interview, Boland spoke about his experience choosing the past three public safety chiefs. Braccio said that he has proven his ability to make an impartial decision that’s not necessarily the popular one. She told the board that carried a lot of weight for her. Shea also named Boland as one of his choices.

Janey Maney was touted by Shea and others for her 25 years experience in Human Resources combined with her past performance on the Advisory Committee. She was also supported by Phaneuf and Shifrin. Phaneuf said Maney’s HR experience would be useful for asking questions related to a diverse department that includes women.

Phaneuf told the room that the SFD has a “Strong Chief” position, with powers outside of selectmen’s control: hiring, reprimands,etc. She said that his budget and approval of the contract are the only things the Town has control of. She made a case that Stivers’ understanding of the chief’s powers and his budget through years on Advisory were “a big component”.

In the end, Stivers was selected 3-1 (with Shea dissenting) and Maney was unanimously approved.

In past discussions, Town Administrator Mark Purple said he would target February for the board to interview final candidates.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arborist October 5, 2018 at 11:53 AM

The BOS made a big mistake not appointing Mr. Kendall to the search team, He has lived in this town all his life and knows the ins and outs of the fire dept. Just because his son is a member of the SFD doesn’t make him a bad guy. Then the BOS wonder why people don’t volunteer for these type of things

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2 John Kendall October 5, 2018 at 7:35 PM

Arborist, I don’t know who you are, but thanks. I fully understand the concerns that
Mrs. Phaneuf and Mr. Shifrin had regarding pressure on my son. I never even gave it a thought. Maybe some other committee, someday

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3 arborist October 9, 2018 at 4:54 PM

Mr. . Kendall, It’s too bad that there could be pressure put on your son if you were selected to the search team, What has this world become? this shouldn’t be , I know if you were selected you would work hard to find the most qualified chief for the SFD. at least you gave it a try.

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