Knoxville — Despite the results of the Journal-Express online poll and over 700 signatures on a petition to name Greg Higginbotham as the full-time fire chief, the Knoxville City Council did not take action on the issue.
Higginbotham has served as chief since February, when the previous chief was dismissed. The City has performed one search for a new, full-time chief, but the individual offered the job turned it down.
Many residents in the area, and fire/rescue volunteers, have shown their support for Higginbotham. More was said at last night's regular council meeting.
Kevin Rodgers, who was adament that he was speaking for himself, not Knoxville Fire/Rescue or Higginbotham, presented the petition to the council. He was followed by former KFR member Lisa Glover. Glover said the relationship between the City fire department and the rural is the best it has ever been, under Higginbotham's leadership. She also cited training Higginbotham has taken to improve as a member of the department.
"He's taken whatever training has been offered," Glover said.
"The relationship (with the rural fire department) is absolutely great right now," Knoxville Township Trustee Myles Murphy told the council. "It's the best it's ever been."
Mike Legvold, Indiana Township Fire Chief and current President of the Marion County Emergency Management Association, asked the council to not fail Higginbotham before he fails them.
Jordan Van Ness, a member of Pleasantville Emergency Services and a Des Moines first responder, cited the increase in cooperative calls between Pleasantville and Knoxville in 2012. In 2010, the two departments worked together five times. Already this year, they have provided mutual aid on 18 separate occasions.
City Manager Harold Stewart, who has the authority to hire staff members including the fire chief, refused to speak publicly about personnel issues. He thanked those who spoke in favor of Higginbotham for their comments.
Stewart said the costs to advertise for the fire chief, and the hiring process were minimal. As of last night's meeting, the City had not spent any more on the search than what was spent the first time.
"Kudos to Greg for everything you do," Councilor Dave Roozeboom said. He went on to say that the council hired Harold and entrusted him to lead as the City moves forward. Roozeboom believes the council should give Stewart the opportunity to pursue his vision for the City. In the past, Roozeboom believes the council would have agreed to stay with Higginbotham, but if things are done differently, it may allow greater success in the future.
Councilor Tim Pitt has been involved in the fire chief search since the beginning. He said there were high goals for the new chief, and that since the council approved an official job description for the position, they should stay with it.
"We hired Harold to lead us," Councilor Elsie Kemp said. She has reservations about seeking a new chief when Higginbotham has not had the opportunity to receive the necessary training to meet the demands of the job description. She believes he does not have time to pursue it while serving as chief.
"I imagine he's worked to death right now," Kemp said. "I feel like Greg should have a chance in some way."
Merle Vickroy, a former fire chief, raised concern that since the rest of the department is volunteer, they may resign in protest if a new chief is selected. This is something Higginbotham said, after the meeting, would not be an issue.
"Why would we put somebody in danger...just for a cause?" Higginbotham said. He said the team has a sense of community and will remain with the department because they care. As for him, he fully intends to continue to work for Knoxville Fire/Rescue as long as he can, regardless of the position.
To Higginbotham, the council is looking for a chief with a track record, something he may have some day, but does not yet have.
"I think I'm doing a good job here," Higginbotham said. While he may not be the man for the chief's position, according to the council, at this time, he may be in the future.
The search continues for a new chief. Stewart said he has already arranged meetings with potential candidates for the end of the month.
The fire chief discussion was only part of a very active, busy council meeting. Look for full reports on the council's discussions and actions in the Aug. 10 Journal-Express.