For three months Randy Smith has been interim chief for Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, but he has yet to be approved by the City Council. In fact, Mayor Sandy Stimpson hasn’t even brought the matter before the council.
However, on Jan. 28 the council will vote on whether or not to approved Smith, and Stimpson was going to bat for his recommended fire chief on Jan. 27.
“I am here today to express my support for Randy Smith as Chief of the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department and to call on the Mobile City Council to approve his appointment as soon as possible,” Stimpson said in front of the fire department headquarters. “We have placed Randy’s appointment on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting and our hope is that they will approve him unanimously.
“I introduced Randy as my choice to lead the department back in October, prior to taking office. Since then, as Interim Chief, he has done everything – and more – to earn my complete trust and confidence, as well as the trust and confidence of our citizens.”
Stimpson outlined some of the changes that have already occurred under Smith, which include the development of numerous employee committees to allow everyone to have a voice and a chance to participate in taking the department to the next level.
Smith also found over a million dollars in savings in the department’s budget. The interim fire chief discovered the new fire station in Theodore was unfunded and being staffed with overtime positions, which caused the department to go in excess of $1.5 million dollars over the overtime budget. He also found there were more captains than budgeted.
The department will also begin Safety First Day, which will be the first day of every month. A combination of public service announcements will be sent out and citizens will receive a 15 second phone call reminding them to check their smoke detector and when done, to be a community partner, by reminding their neighbors or assisting them to checking theirs.
Also, firefighters will go door to door in a neighborhood within 48 hours following a house fire to provide a Home Fire and Safety Self-Inspection Checklist, to assist residents in identifying and eliminating some of the common hazards that could contribute to a fire or another type of home accident.
Stimpson said Smith took care of the need for a leader for the department.
“As interim chief, he has worked diligently to implement his plan and to ensure that all the men and women of the department have the training, support and resources they need to be successful. The reality is that the department is in dire need of leadership, and one of Randy’s first tasks was to begin healing some of the divisions that have plagued the department for far too long,” Stimpson said. “Just as we’ve done in the mayor’s office, he’s established an open door policy and is reaching out to employees across the department.”
Part of the hesitation for putting Smith on the council’s agenda for approval stems from a 2006 lawsuit filed by Smith against the city.
The lawsuit, which was settled, claimed the city was discriminating against white employees within the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department at the urging of then-Mayor Sam Jones and then-Fire Chief Stephen Dean.
As a result, the city settled and gave Smith the position of deputy chief and a lump sum of $80,000, which partly went to pay for his attorney fees.
In the complaint, Smith and co-plaintiff William Glisson said the city knowingly tried to keep either from ascending the ranks when two deputy chief positions came open.
Before promotions at the MFRD, every person who is eligible for the position is given a test. The people who take the test are then ranked by how well they performed. The position is to be filled according to the test results. In the case of Smith and Glisson, this didn’t happen.
They said two African-American candidates were selected although Smith and Glisson had higher scores.
During the lawsuit, Councilman Fred Richardson was subpoenaed to testify. In the complaint, Smith and Glisson alleged “Mayor Jones’ predecessor (Mike Dow) and certain City Council members have exerted pressure on Dean to promote minority candidates regardless of their qualifications based on their race or sex. Such actions by the council members violate state law, and promoting on the basis of an applicants race violates the city’s own Affirmative Action Policy.”
The lawsuit never names the “certain City Council members.”
However, Richardson said earlier he and then-councilman Clinton Johnson were called to testify.
“I was asked if I had played any role in minorities and women in the fire department being promoted by speaking to the fire chief about having any sort of upward mobility for minorities and women,” he said. “My answer was yes. I made it known to the department that I would like to see upward movement for women and minorities because I thought there were not very many who had been promoted.”
Richardson took umbrage with Smith and Glisson’s claim that they were skipped over. He said Mark Hansberry, who was given the position, was a nurse at the time of the promotions so he was actually more qualified than Smith and Glisson.
“(Hansberry) could do more for the department,” Richardson said in a previous interview. “The list of people for that promotion were all qualified. Also, there have been cases where minority candidates were skipped over for others and there wasn’t a word said about that.”
Richardson said earlier the 2006 lawsuit would not affect his vote for Smith to become fire chief.
Stimpson hopes the council will approve the appointment so Smith can move on with his plans for the department.
“The Fire-Rescue Department is a critical component to Mobile becoming the safest, most business and family-friendly city in America by 2020,” Stimpson said. “It is time for the Mobile City Council to approve his appointment as chief and enable him to continue his work to build a world-class department for our city.”