Thursday, December 12, 2013
PORTLAND — The city is re-opening its nationwide search for a fire chief, after face-to-face interviews and assessments failed to produce a new chief.
The city has been looking for a fire chief since Fred LaMontagne resigned in April. The previous nationwide search produced 55 applications, and cost the city more than $20,000 to interview and assess the talents of five finalists.
“We went through an exhaustive process,” said Michael Miles, the city’s human resources director. “This is one of the most important positions in (city) government. We want to get it right."
One candidate was strongly favored, but withdrew his application for personal reasons before the city could make an offer, Miles said.
“There was no consensus the remaining four were strong enough to be the finalist,” he said.
The fire chief will oversee a department of nearly 250 employees and a $16 million budget. Portland has 66,000 residents, but the population swells to about 150,000 during the day.
The five finalists visited Portland on June 28 and 29, spending one day before two separate interview panels. The other day was spent participating in an assessment center that tested their reactions to emergency situations.
All five were men and one was from Maine.
“I’m disappointed to hear they have to do this again given the expense,” said Lt. John Brooks, president of Portland Firefighters Local 740, which represents about 250 firefighters, EMS and communications workers.
The city paid the Massachusetts-based MMA Consulting Group about $13,300 to operate the assessment center. An additional $7,200 was spent to fly the candidates to Portland.
Miles said both the interview panels and the assessment center failed to produce a strong second choice.
Several people who participated in the interview process declined to comment on the process or their reactions, citing confidentiality agreements they signed with the city.
By resetting the process, the city will incur more costs. Miles said MMA Consulting Group agreed to charge half-price for the next assessment center, since the exercises have already been designed.
Miles said re-opening the process will allow those who contacted the city after the original deadline to apply. Also, the MMA will conduct its own outreach in an effort to recruit candidates for the position.
“(The MMA) has a lot of contacts and a lot of networks, so we’ve asked him to do some work talking to everyone he knows in the business,” Miles said. “My hope is the informal process of generating interest will be as useful as the formal process.”
The new deadline for applications is Aug. 31.