Fire Authority Struggles with Commissioner Appointment

Rick Nason.

By Sue Moore

It took two meetings in October for the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority (SKCFA) board to work through their concerns about the role of the newly-appointed volunteer fire commissioner, Rick Nason. Nason on October 12 sent a letter of resignation after holding the post for less than a month.

Board members met the same day to discuss and accept the resignation, with the caveat that they hoped he would reconsider.

At the Authority’s regular session on Oct. 19, some members of the board were hoping he would still change his mind and were actively negotiating his return. His reason for resigning was muddied in a disagreement with Randy Smith, Brady Township Supervisor and board chair, according to Nason’s letter.

Nason was brought on ostensibly to work on preparing a job description for the fire chief. But he also addressed several dozen recommendations from a consulting firm for improving the authority’s operations. Among the findings were that the response time for calls was too long and that 80 percent of the runs were not necessary: They were medical in nature and covered by EMS services.

Smith said that dealing with the recommendations wasn’t in the understanding he had with Nason, adding that he was not to work with the current fire chief, Tracy McMillan, to implement the recommendations.

Nason said it appeared that Smith didn’t want McMillan as fire chief, so Nason would then become the fall guy to get rid of him.

Smith said he never had a conversation with Nason after the board approved his position.
Smith replied, “While it is everybody’s desire to improve the service of the Fire Authority, it is unfortunate that a simple misunderstanding that could have been cleared up with a five-minute phone call, has resulted in so much drama.”

At the special meeting, Smith took pains to point out the process the board goes through in making decisions, including that his role was simply to run the meetings. He has been board chair for three years, although the usual method is to rotate the chair position regularly between each member of the board from the townships and villages represented.
Some members of the audience had pressed Smith about his chairmanship role at this and previous meetings.

The consulting firm in its recommendations said the board shouldn’t be concerned with daily operations of the department. Instead it should focus on the chief’s job description and hiring someone to occupy that position. Nason had been recruited by the board to help with these matters.

Bill Adams, chair of the human resources committee of the Authority, said the job description was completed in April. After it was posted, three applications were received. Nason was to help sort these out and present a recommendation to the board.

Meanwhile, Adams said he had made contact with Nason before the regular board meeting and that he was willing to reconsider, as long as Smith was no longer chair of the Authority.

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