Fire Chief finalists announced: Look for interviews later this month (Updated)

by beth on March 6, 2019

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Last night, the Fire Chief Screening Committee recommended two finalists for selectmen to interview. The Board of Selectmen will consider the Fire Chief from Portsmouth, NH and Assistant Chief from Wayland, MA.

The two finalists were from the four candidates that attended the Assessment Center. Screening Chair Jason Malinowski told the board that the committee’s recommendations were unanimous and consistent with the consultant’s.

The committee submitted packets that include confidential information for the board to review. Interviews will be the morning of March 15th.* Prior to that, expect the board to post resumes from the packets (with redactions of home addresses, etc.)

Malinowski didn’t specify where the candidates live, just where they work. But he confirmed that one lives within the board’s residency requirement and the other doesn’t.

The Chair acknowledged that Steven Achilles, the Portsmouth Chief, falls outside of the designated 15 mile radius. The posted description called for anyone outside of that radius to relocate within 18 months of starting the job. Malinowski told selectmen that Achilles clearly articulated plans to meet the requirement in a much shorter time period.

Apparently, relocation wouldn’t be an issue for Wayland’s Asst Chief, Neil McPherson.

While we wait on the substantive backgrounds for the finalists, I can preview a couple of fun facts thanks to Google:

  • Achilles authored a book on the early days of Portsmouth’s Fire Department from the mid 1700s – 1900s. You can take a look at that here.
  • Wicked Local ran a Q&A with McPherson when he was named the Asst. Chief in 2016. You can take a look at that here.

The Screening Committee “conditionally dissolved” last night. (They can reconvene if called on to by selectmen, but otherwise won’t need to meet again.) But some members may continue to help when the new chief is hired. 

Prior to listing the candidates, Malinowski presented the committee’s final report. It included suggestions for post-hiring steps.

One recommendation was to share community feedback collected in the early stages of the hiring process. The committee noticed commonalities among comments heard from fire department staff. Malinowski pointed out that individual employees might not be comfortable bringing those thoughts to their new boss. But the Town can present the “broad themes” heard from the department to help a new chief “hit the ground running”. 

BOS Chair Lisa Braccio initially said that she preferred the committee put off dissolving. One reason was to have members go over the feedback with the new chief. Malinowski responded that with an out of state member, making quorum was difficult. He pointed out that the feedback was available in public minutes and said that members could meet with a new chief as individuals. Braccio accepted that.

The committee opined that going forward selectmen should check in with staff for more regular feedback “to create a culture of continuous improvement.” 

It also suggested updating the chief’s position as duties/needs change over time. That would eliminate delays in future searches to work up new job descriptions. That was among several points focused on improving the process for future public safety chief searches.

The final report included the committees thoughts on why a second posting had been made necessary and how to make future searches quicker and more cost efficient.

One of the key points was that a committee should be involved in the process for hiring the consultant and determining its scope. The current committee was recruited after the consultant was contracted.

You can hear the full report via SAM video of last night’s meeting here.

Updated (3/17/19 11:35 am): Towards the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, Chair Lisa Braccio specified that the interviews would be the morning of March 15th. She asked Town Administrator Mark Purple to see if Southborough Access Media could tape/broadcast the meeting.

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