NAACP Criticizes Move To Amend Ordinance On Hiring Springfield Fire Commissioner

The head of the Springfield branch of the NAACP has come out against a proposed change to a city ordinance that would allow the current acting commissioner to lead the city’s fire department on a permanent basis. The ordinance requires the Fire Commissioner hold a Master’s Degree, among other things, and have at least seven years of administrative experience. Those are qualifications acting Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant lacks. Mayor Domenic Sarno wants to amend the ordinance to require only an associate’s degree and two years administrative experience. NAACP President Rev. Talbert Swan says the department has a long history of discriminatory practices, and the Mayor’s action smacks of cronyism.
“If they wanted to drop the master’s degree down to a bachelors degree and increase the experience, that would open up the field to many more candidates who would then meet those less stringent  requirements. But to bring them all the way down to bargain basement prices simply so that it can meet the qualifications of Joseph Conant is a disservice to the city of Springfield.”
Swan says the city should conduct a nationwide search like it did for Police Commissioner and School superintendent. But City Councilor Tim Rooke, who supports the ordinance change, says Conant’s experience fighting fires trumps whatever academic qualifications he may lack.
“When you’re in front of a four alarm or five alarm fire and you have no experience fighting fires, unless you’re going to throw the book at the fire to fight it, I’d rather have a seasoned veteran. Someone who knows how to manage men and women appropriately in a life and death situation.”
But Swan says fighting fires does not give anyone the requisite experience to deal with the wide ranging duties, from multi-million dollar budgets to supervising personnel, required of a fire commissioner. The proposed amendment has been referred to the City Council’s public health and safety committee, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday.