Review board likely to aid Boone County fire chief search

Thursday, June 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:25 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 25, 2009

COLUMBIA — A mostly independent review board is likely to have a role in the final selection of a new chief for the Boone County Fire Protection District, board member Shelly Dometrorch said Wednesday.

She said the board will discuss the creation and composition of the review board in a meeting on Tuesday.

The makeup of the board has not been determined, but Dometrorch said members might include one Fire District board member, a volunteer firefighter and representatives from the general public and local public safety agencies.

Meanwhile, Interim Fire Chief Scott Olsen said he intends to apply for the permanent position of fire chief, vacated in November with the retirement of Steve Paulsell.

Applications for the position will be taken for another three weeks, and the Fire District should have a new chief by the end of this year.

It's been a long process that has put the agency in the middle of some of the biggest changes since it was founded nearly 40 years ago. In addition to hiring a chief, new bylaws are being drafted, and a cooperative agreement between the Fire District and the city has been revised. 

The next big step is the selection of the new chief. Applications received by the July 15 deadline will be screened by Emergency Services Consulting International, a firm hired by the board to help facilitate the process.

“The ESCI will go through (the applications) and weed out the ones that clearly don’t meet the qualifications,” Dometrorch said. The company will then consult the board of directors about narrowing the pool of candidates.

Dometrorch said the consultants will assess the candidates using an evaluation method that requires them to show how they would handle the role of fire chief. A series of exercises might include holding a news conference and making a presentation to the board. 

"I feel that we have to have taxpayer input," board member John Gordon said about the inclusion of an independent review board in the selection process. "The taxpayers have been very supportive of the Boone County Fire Protection District."

Where the independent review board fits into the process isn't entirely clear, but Dometrorch said the board would provide an outside perspective on the candidates chosen by the consultants and the board of directors.

Olsen appears likely to be one of the finalists. He was chosen as interim chief when Paulsell, who served with the Fire District for 38 years, retired amid controversy. 

Paulsell faced many allegations, a number of them involving former Assistant Chief Sharon Curry, now his wife. There were also assertions about the firing of employees who openly opposed him; ties to a false application for FBI bomb squad re-certification, for which he was disciplined; and an unexplained salary increase of about $37,800 in 2004 that brought his pay to $177,058 — $77,944 more per year than the chief of the Columbia Fire Department made in 2008.

Paulsell and the Fire District board reached a settlement Nov. 28, giving him the remainder of his 2008 salary, as well as a $300,000 severance package, upon his retirement.

Olsen was promoted to deputy chief and named interim chief on Dec. 2. Before his promotion, he served as the assistant chief of operations, preparedness and training for the Fire District.

“I think he’s done an absolutely outstanding job,” said David Griggs, board chairman for the Fire District. “Scott has really involved the management staff and office staff.”

If Olsen is not chosen for the permanent position of fire chief, he will resume his duties as deputy chief of operations and preparedness.

Deputy Chief Jeff Scott of the Fire District, the other candidate for the interim position after Paulsell retired, said that he does not plan to apply for the position. Scott said that he plans to retire in a few years and that the Fire District needs a long-term leader.

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