Saturday, December 08, 2001

Fire chief hopes to hire planner

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's fire chief hopes to hire a research and development specialist he says is needed for long-term planning, but he'll find opposition at budget time.

        The city's Civil Service Commission last week created the job of executive administrative officer and set the job description to include policy and facilities develop ment, contract monitoring and capital projects recommendations. The officer would report directly to Chief Robert Wright.

        “There's nobody to look at firehouse planning and stay on it, for example,” the chief said. “We haven't done much with it because I have to give it to somebody who has a lot of other responsibilities already.”

        The job is aimed for acting Safety Director Greg Baker, who will be a supervisor without an office if the safety department is dismantled, as Mayor Charlie Luken wants.

        Chief Wright will have to defend the idea against some City Hall players who say it's exactly the kind of bureaucracy they're trying to cut.

        Mr. Luken said he'd heard discussions about finding a spot for Mr. Baker. But he said he did not know about this specifically and said he would fight any funding for this or any other new bureaucratic position. He says cutting the safety depart ment would save more than $500,000.

        “We need more people doing direct service and less of these bureaucratic positions that are strangling City Hall,” the mayor said. “We just have way too much of this.”

        Mark Sanders, president of the firefighters union, said he was concerned about allocating money for anything not on the priorities list that members are discussing with the chief.

        “We have a lot of priori ties in fire, especially in these real tight budget times,” he said. “I just don't know where we're going to get the money for an administrative position.”

        Mr. Baker, attending a police conference in Los Angeles, could not be reached for comment. He has expressed interest, however, in working with Chief Wright. He currently makes $100,000 a year.

        Councilman Pat DeWine, chairman of the Law and Public Safety committee, said that he has nothing against Mr. Baker but that any available money should go toward hiring more firefighters.

        Councilman John Cranley, finance chairman, was more blunt: “Where does the Civil Service Commission get off creating new positions without going to council first?”

        Still, Chief Wright, who used to do the job when he was an assistant chief, hopes to convince enough officials that the position is necessary.

        “I think it's important that we be allowed to stay current with our mission statement,” he said. “Right now, we have nobody assigned to that task.”


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