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Fire promotion rankles losing candidate

The Spring Hill Fire Rescue Commission names an assistant chief before interviewing all candidates, including one who quit the board to run.

By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002


SPRING HILL -- Two months ago, Dennis Andrews begged his colleagues on the Fire Rescue Commission to judge his bid to become the department's new assistant chief on his application, not his position on the board.

Wednesday night, he asked them to look past the paperwork, including an independent ranking that put him seventh among the top 10 applicants, and grant him an interview.

Arguing the board should stick to the hiring process it outlined in March after he gave up his seat on the five-member commission, Andrews complained that a surprise decision Wednesday night to promote Lt. Bill Davies cheated other applicants who had counted on the chance to interview.

"I think it's totally unfair to change horses midstream," Andrews said, adding later: "I don't know why the board bothers to advertise if you're just going to do whatever you want to do."

Commissioner Jeff Hollander proposed hiring Davies a week after the board received copies of applications from the top 10 candidates.

The applications had been ranked by a panel of three fire chiefs from across the state and reviewed by a five-member ad hoc committee, made up of Chief J.J. Morrison, commission Chairman Bob Kanner, union president John Ferriero and two members of the public.

Davies ranked second on the 10-man list.

Citing his rank on the list, his 20 years' experience in the district and his bachelor's degree in engineering and two associate's degrees in fire science and emergency services, Hollander said Davies was the natural choice.

"There's nobody anywhere close," Hollander said. "How could we possibly consider someone else?"

In calling for a vote to hire Davies on Wednesday night, Hollander short-circuited the hiring process put in place in March after Andrews stepped down from the board. The ad hoc committee was scheduled to meet today, then send recommendations to the board about who should be interviewed.

Morrison, Kanner and Ferriero, representing a majority of the ad hoc committee, told commissioners on Wednesday night Davies was their top choice.

Andrews sat in the audience, red faced, arms folded, shaking his head.

"Once again, you're not going to follow the process that you agreed to follow," he said, his voice rising.

Andrews sparked controversy this year when he applied to become assistant chief as a sitting commissioner. He stepped down after Hollander threatened to introduce a policy banning commissioners from applying for department jobs for at least one year after their elected terms expire.

That policy would have put Andrews out of the running for any openings in the district until at least 2005.

Andrews, 48, resigned in September 1995 as assistant chief in Spring Hill after clashing with former Chief Mike Morgan. He now works as a training and research manager at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala.

Andrews has said the assistant chief's job, advertised with an annual salary of $57,900, would have given him an $18,000 annual pay raise, plus cut his one-way commute from 84 miles to 7.

Davies, who sat quietly in the back of the room behind Andrews during the often-heated discussion, drew a flurry of handshakes and congratulations from several firefighters who attended the unanimous vote to hire him.

"I'm just grateful for the opportunity," he said after the meeting.

In other business, commissioners agreed to adopt a resolution in favor of independence during their next meeting on June 12.

After learning from attorney Andrew Salzman that the it is possible to draft a legislative act authorizing independence that would include a stipulation requiring a referendum to raise taxes from the current 2.75-mill cap, commissioners agreed to ask for support for the move from county commissioners.

-- Jennifer Farrell covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to

farrell@sptimes.com.

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