City hopes to fill fire chief position by March

Published 7:32 am Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The City of Austin will use at least two different temporary fill-ins before a new fire chief is hired, which city officials hope is done by March.

On Monday, the city council decided to move forward with a plan to first allow Brian Lovik — the department’s current commander — and then an interim chief from outside the station to replace Dan Wilson before a full-time replacement is found. Wilson is set to retire Dec. 31.

Lovik will assume the chief’s duties on Jan. 1, just as he normally would as commander if the chief became ill, went on vacation or was out of work for any other reason.

City officials then want to have an interim chief in place by the end of January, and by state statute, he or she would be able to work for no more than 30 days. If that time runs out, Lovik may be asked to fill in again.

It is up to the Austin Fire Civil Service Commission to first recommend an interim chief and, later, a new full-time hire. The commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to get both processes rolling.

The interim chief, who will likely be a retired chief or someone else with experience, will be able to not only give the city time before an official hire is made, but he or she will also be able to provide recommendations regarding the future of the department, city administrator Jim Hurm said.

Councilman Steve King said he thinks the city’s transition plan makes a lot of sense.

“I have no problem with the way this is set up,” he said.

However, firefighter Troy Tigner said he is a bit concerned about rotating through fill-ins so quickly.

“We’re not going to really have stable leadership,” he said.

But short of blowing off the state law that caps an interim chief at 30 days, the city’s hands may be tied. That’s because the civil service commission has a lot of work to do — including developing a position profile, advertising the job and completing all necessary testing — before a new chief takes over.

That new chief will be stepping into a somewhat controversial position locally. In April, the council made public a letter of warning and written reprimand to Wilson stemming from his conduct during an earlier fire committee meeting.

More recently, the city launched an internal investigation into Wilson over allegations that he has fostered a poor work environment. Wilson has denied all allegations, and the investigation remains in limbo, as no conclusions have been released publicly and no punishment against Wilson has been announced.