Ann Arbor officials considering move to have police chief take over fire chief duties
Ann Arbor officials must decide how to respond to the recent resignation of Fire Chief Dominick Lanza. Police Chief Barnett Jones, the city's public safety services director, oversees both the police and fire departments and is filling in as fire chief at least for now.
But the situation could become permanent.
AnnArbor.com obtained records through a Freedom of Information Act request showing Jones went through a training program last year to become certified as a firefighter. That means he technically could be Ann Arbor's next fire chief.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje acknowledged for the first time tonight that having Jones serve a dual role as both the police chief and the fire chief is an option the city is considering to save money.
"When you look at it, what we're trying to do is retain firefighters in a very tough economic environment and that represents more than one position — what would be paid to the chief," Hieftje said. "I think that's going to be a discussion for the City Council."
Hieftje said Jones is "very competent and qualified" to fill the fire chief position, noting that he went through the firefighter training program.
"While he doesn't have the specific many, many years of experience in that field, he does have many, many years of service and an exemplary record in safety services and certainly has worked with fire departments for a very long time," Hieftje said. "In fact, he's been overseeing ours and working with the fire chief for some time now."
Asked recently about the fire training program, Jones said he went through it as the city's public safety services director for the experience, not to become fire chief.
He wasn't immediately available for comment tonight.
Lanza came out of retirement when he was hired for the $108,000 fire chief post last March. The city cut five firefighter positions from his department last July.
In a departing letter to the City Council last week, Lanza criticized the city for reducing staffing in the Fire Department to what he said were potentially dangerous levels. He told the City Council last year the cuts to the department would be manageable, but said in his letter last week that staffing levels are below nationally recognized standards and the Ann Arbor Fire Department is a "one-fire incident department," meaning one substantial fire is all that can be handled at a time.
The city has hired a consultant to complete a staffing analysis in the Fire Department. The city continues to consider implementing a new system that would blend full-time professional firefighters with a staff of paid on-call firefighters, which Lanza warns against.
The City Council recently was presented with options for trimming nearly $1.2 million from the Fire Department's budget over the next two fiscal years. That includes eliminating up to 13 firefighter positions. The council is expected to make a final decision in May.
The city is in negotiations with the firefighters union and is asking firefighters to start paying more toward rising health insurance costs to help avoid layoffs. The average firefighter in Ann Arbor makes nearly $80,000 a year, including base pay and overtime.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has laid out plans for a new incentive-based revenue-sharing program that would force cities like Ann Arbor to address employee compensation costs as any union contracts are negotiated — including requiring employees to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance premiums — in order to receive a large chunk of state funding.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's e-mail newsletters.