Howard Defends Questioning Of Resort Fire Chief’s Hiring

OCEAN CITY – A minor debate simmered on the ongoing Ocean
City Fire Department issue again this week, beginning with one council member
defending her position on the hiring of the new chief before a job description
was established and ending with the city attorney saying the apparent breach of
protocol was correct given the circumstances.

Earlier this summer,
town officials voted to merge the century-plus-old Ocean City Volunteer Fire
Company with the town’s paid professional fire department under the umbrella of
new Fire Chief Chris Larmore. The decision was made after months of
saber-rattling and gnashing of teeth over the future of the volunteer company
and the fire protection services in the resort in general.

At one point recently,
Councilwoman Nancy Howard questioned whether it was right to hire Larmore as
the new fire chief before a job description was established, causing the debate
to resurface, albeit on a more minor level. This week, Howard told her
colleagues her question had little or nothing to do with Larmore or any other
individual. She said she merely wanted to clear the air about the apparent
bypassing of an important step in the process.

“I would like to make it
clear exactly why I brought it up,” she said. “I’m not making any disparaging
comments about the fire company or any person in the fire company. It’s just
that I’ve never seen, in my 12 years, this council hire somebody and then go
back and write their job description.”

Howard said she merely
raised the question in the best interest of the town. She further suggested the
issue be revisited.

“I have faith in the
fire company, but I don’t work for the volunteer fire company,” she said. “I
have to look out for what is best for the town. Put out a job description and
take interviews. Who knows? Maybe somebody comes forward or maybe it ends up
being the person we have.”

Council President Joe
Mitrecic said the memorandum of understanding approved and signed by the
council earlier this summer established Larmore as the chief of the newly named
Ocean City Fire Company and set guidelines for how the fire service would be
organized under his leadership.

“My understanding was
the chief’s job was his to have until he decided to move on,” he said. If
anybody on the council wants to change that, we can discuss that today. I
signed it at that point because I felt it was best for the taxpayers, the
residents and the visitors to this town. I still feel that way today.”

Howard asked City
Solicitor Guy Ayres if there were irregularities in how the hiring process went
down. Ayres explained Larmore is technically a department head, meaning he
doesn’t come under other town hiring practices.

“It doesn’t have to be
advertised,” he said. “As a department head, he works at the direction of the
Mayor and Council.”

Ayres said the weighty
circumstances surrounding the entire merger of the two fire companies dictated
certain things needed to happen outside what would normally be done in hiring a
new fire chief.

“Was there anything
unusual? Typically a job description is written before a person is hired,” he
said. “But you have to remember, these were unusual circumstances. The Mayor
and Council had to act quickly on behalf of the people of the town.”

Mayor Rick Meehan
interceded and ended the conversation with a voice of reason, urging his
colleagues to be patient with the process.

“We’re in a better
position today then we were last December,” he said. “Things are working fine
and will only get better.”