Wednesday, May 09, 2001

It's time to leave for Mason fire chief

Manager asks, he offers resignation

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — After less than three months on the job, Fire Chief H. Michael Drumm is resigning his $58,000-a-year post.

        City Manager Scot Lahrmer said he told Chief Drumm over the weekend he was not a good fit for the job, and subsequently the chief offered his resignation in exchange for a severance package.

        The terms of the package are being worked out by the city attorney, Mr. Lahrmer said, and are expected to be approved Monday by City Council. Chief Drumm's resignation will be effective after the severance package is approved.

        Residents and firefighters complained to city officials that Chief Drumm was responsible for the department's sunken morale, dwindling numbers and lack of leadership.

        Mr. Lahrmer says he hired Chief Drumm in February to become the city's third chief in five months because of his experience and to bring stability to the fire department rocked by the controversial resignation in October of former Chief Billy Goldfeder.

        Mr. Goldfeder, who played a key role in establishing the Mason Fire Department more than two years ago, was investigated by city officials over allegations that he sexually harassed several female employees. Former part-time firefighter Tracy Horwarth last year sued Mr. Goldfeder and the city of Mason, claiming officials failed to take proper action once complaints about him were made. The case is scheduled for trial next year.

    • Billy Goldfeder was hired as chief of the Mason-Deerfield Joint Fire District in 1998. Deerfield Township then announced it was withdrawing from the district, and Chief Goldfeder was hired in October 1998 to start the Mason Fire Department. He resigned in October 2000 amid an internal investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed several female employees.
    • Randall Staley was hired as interim chief to replace Chief Goldfeder on Oct. 2, 2000. There was a mutual agreement between Mr. Staley and city officials that his contract would not be renewed when a new chief was hired.
    • Chief H. Michael Drumm was hired Feb. 20, 2001. City Manager Scot Lahrmer said Chief Drumm's resignation will become effective Monday after it is accepted by City Council.
        Chief Drumm, who did not return calls for comment Tuesday, said during an interview last week with the Enquirer that many firefighters have not bought into changes he's made in his short tenure.

        Among the changes: delegating more responsibility to his staff, changing which officers respond first to calls, stopping fire engines from appearing at birthday parties, and making ambulances — not fire engines — the initial responders to medical calls.

        “If I have changed direction too fast, then I apologize,” said Chief Drumm, who was the chief for eight years in Markham, Ill., before coming to Mason and buying a house.

        “If I have seemed unapproachable, it's because there's been a myriad of things to do,” Chief Drumm said. “If I have taken it in the wrong direction, it's because of miscommunication.”

        Deputy Fire Chief Ray Mueller, who has been appointed acting chief by Mr. Lahrmer, said the resignation of Chief Drumm has had a sobering effect in this fast-growing Warren County city of 22,000 residents.

        “People are still taking changes in and they still haven't absorbed the shock of all this,” said acting chief Mueller, who supports Chief Drumm. “We feel pretty much under stress. We're all in fear of our jobs. We don't know where we stand with the city.”

        Part-time firefighter Barbara Peters criticized Chief Drumm for not offering enough training.

        “Right now our morale is so low,” Mrs. Peterson said. “It's hell. Working at Mason is really bad right now.”

        Between Feb. 20, when Chief Drumm took the helm, and April 25, 15 people left the fire department, eight to take full-time jobs, two new employees never showed up for work, a one person went back to school full-time, one was terminated, one left for medical reasons and two resigned for personal reasons. The fire department has more than 70 employees, most of them part-time and on-call paid.

        Mr. Lahrmer said he will appoint a committee to work with him to determine the future organizational structure and select a new chief for the fire department. The three-month process of hiring Chief Drumm cost taxpayers about $31,000, including advertising fees, bringing candidates in for several rounds of interviews, and background screening and psychological assessments.


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