Oregon City Council by a split vote last week approved district fire chief Edmund Ellis as the city’s new fire chief, effective June 7.
Mayor Mike Seferian recommended to council at a special meeting that Ellis, a veteran of the fire department, be appointed to the position.
Council voted 4-3 for Ellis, 61, who has considerable support from the department’s rank and file firefighters.
Councilmen Jerry Peach, Dennis Walendzak, Sandy Bihn, and James Seaman voted in favor of Ellis, while Councilmen Mike Sheehy, Terry Reeves, and Clint Wasserman were opposed.
A safety committee meeting was held before the special council meeting to discuss Seferian’s recommendation.
Ellis replaces former Chief Bill Wilkins, who retired soon after Seferian was elected Oregon mayor last November to take a job with the state fire marshal’s office.
Ellis’s annual salary as chief will be $74,003.4, $3,500 below the minimum set for the salary schedule for fire chief, said Seferian, because Ellis has not yet received his 240 hour firefighter certification training from the state. The certification is one of the requirements of the position. Ellis has one year to obtain the certification. At that time, he will receive the proper pay scale as chief.
Seaman said he would vote for Ellis following considerable discussion at the Safety Committee meeting that was attended by Administrator Mike Beazley, the mayor, and several members of council.
“After much discussion, and after the confidence of Mr. Beazley and the mayor, I will vote to concur with the mayor’s appointment of Mr. Ellis as fire chief,” said Seaman.
Ellis was one of three candidates interviewed for the job. The other candidates were Assistant Chief Paul Mullin, who has been acting chief since Wilkins left, and firefighter-EMS Mark Mullins
Wasserman, who is president of council, and chairman of the safety committee, sat in on the second and third rounds of interviews of fire chief candidates conducted by Seferian and Beazley, Wasserman said after the meeting.
“I saw the ranking of the candidates a little differently throughout the interviews,” Wasserman said when asked why he voted against Ellis. “The mayor, the city administrator and I talked. I expressed my reservations. Given the fact that it’s a personnel issue, I don’t feel comfortable going into my reservations. The process needs to maintain its confidentiality. When it came down to it, I think Ed was a candidate worth consideration. I thought there were more qualified candidates. But it was the mayor’s appointment. I respectfully objected, and voted no. It wasn’t personal against Ed Ellis. It’s strictly a business decision. I extend my congratulations to him and look forward to working with him from my role as safety committee chairman and his role as fire chief. We need to restore the fire department to the excellent level of service that our citizens demand. In the interview process, there were several key areas of improvement identified. We’ve discussed them with Ed. He knows he’s got a tough job ahead
Reeves said after the meeting that he voted against Ellis because he didn’t think he was as qualified as Paul Mullin. He said he was also concerned that Ellis has a record of questioning his superiors.
“He has a record of questioning authority several different times throughout his career,” said Reeves. “I felt one of the other candidates would have been better for the job. After Ellis was appointed chief, I congratulated him. I told him to prove me wrong.”
Robert Lamb, an Oregon firefighter for 44 years, said at the meeting that Ellis was “an excellent choice.”
“I have known Ed. I think Ed would be an excellent choice at this time for fire chief,” said Lamb, who retired as a deputy fire chief about six years ago. “Ed has been a hard worker. He spoke his mind. Most of the time, it was for the good of the fire department,” said Lamb. “Ed also has spent some time as an instructor in Bowling Green for several years. Ed has had some conflicts, but I think every one of the men I’ve talked to are backing him right now. They’d like to see this get done so the fire department can move forward. We’ve been set back quite a long way.”
Sheehy congratulated Ellis at the meeting.
“As I told you when we met, if you prevailed this evening, you would have my unqualified support as the new Oregon fire chief,” said Sheehy. “On behalf of city council, I wish you the best.”
“I appreciate the confidence from the mayor and city administrator, council members who voted for me, and ones who had some reservations,” said Ellis. “I understand them. Believe me. I know I didn’t make the best choices all the time. I realize that. And I’m going to go forward with Assistant Chief Mullin and all the district chiefs, and of course the fellows sitting here - the rank and file. We’re going to fine tune our fire department, and make it a little bit better for you. I better get busy.”
After the meeting, Seferian said he picked Ellis for chief because he had widespread support within the department, which has experienced low morale, and tension between the part-time and full-time personnel.
Seferian said he got input from various members of the fire department in the last few months to help him choose a chief. He also waited until he got help from Beazley, whom he appointed as administrator in March.
“We asked members of the fire department to talk about concerns within the department, where it’s going and where they think it needs attention. Everyone was very honest, and appreciative of being able to talk about the department,” he said. “We knew we had some dissention between full-time and part-time personnel. Both sides took responsibility for some of it, and were in a mood to put that to rest. Trust was a big issue, and morale had dropped,” he said.
“We got comments from the three candidates on how they would address issues. I liked all three guys. But we’re looking at the time right now, what is the need in the station today? And the support and respect Ed has through the majority of the force is very strong. We realized there were issues that had to be changed, and if they were going to accept change, it became apparent Ed was the one who was in the best position to implement those changes,” he said. He said Ellis, who was president of the Oregon Part-Time Firefighter’s Association, had spirited and passionate discussions with superiors in the past, but the incidents were mostly in the 1970s and were minor.