Gridlock Stymies Salisbury Fire Chief Vacancy

SALISBURY — Frustration is mounting with Salisbury leadership still at an impasse over filling permanent positions in the Salisbury Fire Department (SFD), and at least one City Council member doesn’t expect the situation to change until the spring election.

“Hopefully, voters will see this combination is not working so well,” said Councilwoman Laura Mitchell.

The council and administration have been essentially deadlocked on finding a full-time chief for the SFD since this summer. When Mayor Jim Ireton recommended that Acting Chief Rick Hoppes be given the chief position permanently, the council majority rejected the appointment, leaving Hoppes and three of his subordinates, who had been temporarily promoted to fill the vacuum left by the retirement of the former chief, in limbo. Ireton has since declined to submit any new candidates for consideration as chief.

Councilman Tim Spies called the situation a “log-jam” Monday when the council voted to extend Acting Assistant Michael Donaway’s status for another six months.

“I think we need to get moving on getting names before the council to become permanent chief at this point,” he said.

Though Mitchell had supported Ireton’s recommendation of Hoppes, she acknowledged that both sides seem to be stonewalling each other in refusing to move forward. But even if both sides are to blame, Mitchell was especially critical of the council majority.

“This is about their disdain for the firefighters … They’re treated like stepchildren by the council majority,” she said.

Mitchell argued that whenever the Salisbury Police Department is under consideration the council majority is incredibly flexible and sympathetic but with SFD they “have to rake up all of the old mud that they can find.”

With the current personalities on the council and with Ireton as mayor, Mitchell said expects the stalemate to continue.

“I don’t think this council is going to do anything,” she said, adding that the elections are approaching in April and the issue can’t “go on indefinitely.”

Mitchell worried that the deadlock is “horrible for morale” in the SFD since leaving management in temporary active positions amounts to the opposite of job security. How deep that worry goes amongst firefighters is unknown but roughly a dozen were in attendance at Monday’s meeting, though none chose to address the council.

Council President Terry Cohen remarked on the complexity of the issue, saying, “The process of appointing department heads has not gone smoothly under this mayor, for both the previous council and the current one.”