Fort Smith boss says fire chief to soon be hired, updates progress on filling other top city vacancies

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 189 views 

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken believes the search for a new fire chief is winding down and a new hire could be announced before the end of July.

The position has been vacant since former Chief Mike Richards retired last October, but Geffken said in recent comments to Talk Business & Politics that he expects to make an announcement sometime in the next two weeks.

“We do have our last round of interviews coming up this Thursday, and shortly thereafter I plan on naming the chief for the city of Fort Smith,” Geffken said. “It will be a week or two. Two weeks will be the outlier unless there is something I want to move forward with on another round (of interviews), or there are two candidates who are so good that I am having trouble separating between them. But at this point, it should be within the next two weeks.”

Talk Business & Politics recently detailed the six finalists for the position. Three of the finalists – Teddy Abbey, Tommy Bishop and Philip Christensen – work with the Fort Smith Fire Department while the other three – Harold Clark, Gary Birch, and Jim Long – hail from Pine Bluff, Ark., Leavenworth, Ks., and Tulsa, Okla., respectively. Birch and Long were contacted later in the process, but did not necessarily move ahead of the initial four. Geffken did not say whether any of the previously reported six have been eliminated from consideration.

Candidates in the process are interviewed by a committee consisting of Geffken, Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman; Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck; Fort Smith EMS Executive Director Tim Hearn; retired former Assistant Fire Chief Terry Bigler, who served as interim chief after the position was vacated by Mike Richards in October 2015; and Chief Master Sgt. Ron Redding of the 188th Wing.

Finalists were selected through the city’s standard application process.

Geffken also updated the search for a new police chief as well as the vacant human resources and utilities director positions.

“We’ve had a wonderful, wonderful response to our recruiting firm for police chief and HR director,” Geffken said, adding that as of last week, both positions had received 19 resumes each. “Of Police Chief, there are about 11 who warrant further investigation, and in HR, out of those 19, there are about seven that warrant further investigation. But it’s still open until the end of July, so it’s been a great response, and I am very pleased.”

The utilities director position, on the other hand, has been slower moving with only “two or three” resumes received so far, Geffken said.

“But our recruiting firm is really focusing in, and contacting candidates, who have what we’re looking for, in their database of people who have submitted, Geffken said. “We have a lot of people we’re trying to reach out to through our recruiter—people who have consent decree, wastewater, storm, sanitary, all of that background. We’re very hopeful that we’ll have some very good candidates coming from that.”

Geffken said Dallas-based Strategic Government Resources (SGR) is helping with the search, and said at the June 21 Board of Directors meeting he expects the process to take up to three months, “hopefully less.”

If the city maxes out that timetable, it could be the end of September before the three positions are permanently filled. In the meantime, Maj. Dean Pitts is serving as the interim Fort Smith Police Chief while HR Coordinator Lindsey Kaelin is helping to manage human resources and former public works director Bob Roddy of Burns & McDonnell is serving as temporary utilities director.