Mobile has been without an official fire chief for more than two years and there has been no recent discussion about promoting the man currently doing the job.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson initially appointed Randy Smith in November 2013 to helm the department, but rescinded the appointment in September 2014. Smith was never confirmed by the Mobile City Council.
Since the change of course, Assistant Chief Billy Pappas has assumed responsibility for leading the department. Pappas’ name has never appeared on the council agenda.
Council President Gina Gregory said placement of Pappas’ name on the agenda would be up to Stimpson.
“It has not been placed on our agenda,” Gregory wrote in an email. “It would be something the mayor would do.”
Stimpson commended Pappas and other Mobile Fire-Rescue Department leaders during last week’s State of the City address, but before Tuesday’s council meeting said Pappas would not be nominated for confirmation.
“I’ve chosen not to put him up because I don’t know if the votes are there,” Stimpson said.
Councilwoman Bess Rich, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said she would support Pappas if he moved to Mobile. City spokesman George Talbot confirmed Pappas lives on the Eastern Shore.
Rich said having an acting chief is not the same as having a confirmed chief.
“I believe the criteria of having the safest city includes the fire department,” she said, apparently taking a dig at one of Stimpson’s campaign priorities.
Councilman Fred Richardson said he has “no problem” with Pappas, but said he wouldn’t discuss confirming the assistant chief or anyone else until the name appeared on a council agenda.
“I’ll have to evaluate it once he puts his name up there,” Richardson said, referring to the mayor. “I’m not saying anything until then.”
Richardson also said he was unsure why the position has remained vacant for so long.
“Only the mayor knows why he has not recommended a chief,” he said. “The administration will act. I think he knows why he left this position vacant.”
Councilman John Williams said he doesn’t care one way or the other if a chief is in place, as long as the department is running smoothly. He added Pappas has done an admirable job in the interim.
“I have never opposed any of the mayor’s appointments,” Williams said. “I don’t foresee that happening now.”
But according to local firefighter union president Dewayne Patrick, the situation is unfair to Pappas, who is doing the job as chief without the pay increase that would accompany a promotion.
“It’s not fair to him to take the responsibility of the role and not be compensated,” Patrick said. As assistant chief, Pappas earns a salary of more than $106,000 per year.
But Patrick said Stimpson’s delay is hurting morale around the department.
“We need someone in that position to run the department,” he said. “We need a head figure. If you’re not going to fill the position, get rid of it.”
There was speculation by at least one councilor back in the summer of 2014 that Smith didn’t have the support needed to gain confirmation through a City Council vote. At the time, Williams called that a “shame” because Smith was “immensely qualified.”
Smith filed a suit against the city claiming reverse discrimination in 2006. Richardson was subpoenaed to testify as part of the lawsuit before it was settled.