As the city announced five finalists for the position of Mobile Fire-Rescue Department chief, Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting it had added the “Nick Saban” of fire chiefs to a team of advisors to interview them.
Montgomery Fire Chief Miford Jordan is to fire departments what the University of Alabama head coach is to football teams, Stimpson joked to councilors. In response to Stimpson, Jordan — an Alabama fan — said “Roll Tide.”
Jordan, who is responsible for improving Montgomery’s insurance services office rating to one of the country’s best, has joined a panel tasked with further evaluating the finalists and making a recommendation to Stimpson. Jordan joins Public Safety Director James Barber, I-Team Executive Director and former paramedic Jeff Carter and management consultant Dan Lumpkin.
The group is currently in the process of interviewing Deputy Chief Ken Keller, as well as district chiefs Myron King, Paul Sealy, Doug Cooper and Jeremy Lami. Those five candidates were whittled down from a total of 13 internal candidates based on submissions of strategic plans.
Jordan, who keeps his turnout gear in his vehicle, told councilors he was passionate about fire departments. In speaking with the press afterwards, he added he was personally looking for similar passion and leadership ability in a candidate for fire chief.
“I’m very passionate about how we serve our communities,” Jordan told councilors, of the chief search. “This is an extension of my passion.”
In addition to passion and leadership, Barber said the right candidate will be able to manage the department’s finances, which he admitted hasn’t always been done in the past.
The city has been without a confirmed fire chief since Stimpson took office almost four years ago. In that time, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department has had two interim chiefs — Randy Smith and Billy Pappas — but neither has been put up for confirmation.
Administration officials previously confirmed a belief that neither candidate had enough votes from the City Council to win confirmation. Tuesday, Stimpson said the administration and council are past the issues that previously made confirmation impossible and it was only “speculation” that a lack of diversity among previous candidates was the reason for the delays.
Stimpson added he was as confident as he could be councilors would confirm his choice of one of the five remaining candidates.
Despite Stimpson calling it “speculation,” Councilman Levon Manzie has previously said he’d be looking for diversity in a fire chief position. However, he refrained from making any recommendation following a pre-conference meeting Tuesday.
“I’m pleased that those five are highly qualified individuals,” he said. “I’m waiting on a recommendation from Mayor Stimpson in order to dig deeper.”
Manzie said the diversity issue is somewhat tied into recruitment and promotions within the department. He said that would have to improve in the future.
“It’s harder to get someone to reach that level of opportunity if you don’t have a bench of players ready to move up,” Manzie said. “I want us to make sure our recruitment and promotions are as diverse as possible.”
Councilman Fred Richardson said he too was excited to see which of the candidates Stimpson recommends for the job. Councilwoman Bess Rich, chairwoman of the council’s public safety committee, echoed Richardson’s comments on the matter.
The selection committee will interview three candidates this week and two next week. A recommendation could come as early as Thursday, May 11, Stimpson said.