There are lots of questions about Mayor Lauren McLean’s unexpected pick for Boise Fire Chief ahead of their vote next week.
On Monday afternoon, McLean announced her choice for Boise’s next fire chief was not one of the two out-of-state finalists selected through a nationwide search, vetted through stakeholder interviews, and who answered the public’s questions in a town hall. Instead, she decided to reach out to Meridian Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer for the job.
Niemeyer did not originally apply for the position and did not interview with the stakeholder panelists from the Boise Fire Department or Boise City Council Members. City spokesman Seth Ogilve said McLean chose to go with Niemeyer instead of the other candidates last Wednesday after hearing feedback on the original two candidates from the community.
“The mayor was trying to find the best candidate for the City of Boise and she was taking community input and she thinks she selected the best candidate,” Ogilve said Tuesday.
Niemeyer was involved in a fact-finding process with the Boise Fire Union and the City of Boise earlier this year. Ogilve said Niemeyer was picked for a role, but was not formally given any work. The goal of the on-going fact-finding is to determine if the city acted in good faith in considering Local 149’s proposal for the use of some reallocated firefighter retirement funds. Niemeyer was replaced in the process by Meridian’s Deputy Chief Charlie Butterfield when he accepted McLean’s job offer.
A spokesman for the City of Meridian said Niemeyer was unavailable for an interview Tuesday.
Local 149 President Mike Bisagno would not comment Tuesday on McLean’s selection.
“Everything we’ve been talking about is still mid-process and it’s better to leave it until we have a final product,” he said.
A surprise to council
City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings, who interviewed the finalists in the selection process, said she found out Niemeyer would be named 20 minutes before the press release went out. As of Tuesday, she said she is still doing due diligence and is unsure if she will be voting to confirm him.
“I have concerns that all of the stakeholders were bought into the process that we had,” she said. “It was something we all agreed on in advance that was the process we were going to use. If that process wasn’t successful and didn’t give us a candidate that was satisfactory, what we should have done is gone back to the drawing board and figured out where the process went on and what we needed to do differently and take another go at it.”
Woodings said Niemeyer also did not meet the minimum requirements laid out by the city in its initial search because he does not have a bachelor’s degree and would not like to live in Boise. Niemeyer completed a two-year paramedic program at Central Washington University and is 15 credits short of a degree in paramedicine, according to Ogilve. The spokesman did not answer a question sent by text Tuesday about if the city plans to waive the requirement for the Fire Chief to live in Boise.
BoiseDev asked Ogilve to provide the original requirements for Fire Chief Tuesday, but they were not provided by publication time Wednesday.
In the original process, Woodings said she had strong hopes McLean would select Phoenix’s Deputy Fire Chief Scott Walker for the position because of his experience with inter-agency cooperation and personality. She understood McLean’s push for a local candidate, but she said the search process should have been tweaked earlier to ensure qualified Idahoan candidates rose to the top so they could be vetted publicly.
“I think that the proper place to really insert that preference would have been earlier in the process and making sure we had some good local candidates who were qualified and ready to make it through our recruiting process,” Woodings said. “We’ve seen some pretty high profile examples recently, like with the (Boise State University) president search, where we went back to the drawing board after a failed search and found a great candidate so I think that’s not impossible and I think sometimes you have to tweak what you’re asking for and what you’re expecting.”
In an initial news release, McLean’s office included a quote of support from City Council President Elaine Clegg.
“I am delighted that Chief Mark Niemeyer was willing to bring his extensive knowledge to Boise,” Clegg said. “My experience working with him on regional issues at the Emergency Management Services Board has shown me that Chief Niemeyer is a collaborator who is responsive to issues when they arise and knows how to use data to find solutions.”
Ongoing due diligence
City Council Member Patrick Bageant, who also participated in the selection process, said he had not heard any mention of Niemeyer during the search and interview process for a new fire chief. He said finding a local candidate is not one of his priorities and he would like to find the most qualified candidate, whether they are from the Treasure Valley or elsewhere.
Like Woodings, Bageant would also not say whether or not he planned to confirm Niemeyer. He said there were roughly 50 candidates who applied, but some dropped out due to a variety of reasons before the end.
“The selection process was challenged,” Bageant said. “We had a number of candidates we had advanced who withdrew their names from the process for personal reasons, family reasons, and so we ended up with a shallower pool in the final stages than we would have liked and that affected the process in ways that are regrettable.”
City Council Member TJ Thomson did not participate in the selection because he said he felt comfortable with the other council members involved. He said McLean naming Niemeyer was unusual, but so far he is impressed with the candidate and will be voting on him and not the process used to select him.
“Like many, I was surprised by the change because I don’t think I’ve seen that in the past,” he said. “I would encourage a more robust process going forward. At the end of the day I have to turn my attention to the qualifications of that individual. That’s where I will be focusing.”
Former wildland firefighter and City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton said he looks forward to meeting Niemeyer and asking him about his experience fighting fires in rural areas, like the foothills. He said so far he hasn’t heard any concerns about the process McLean used from the community, but if there are any he would like to know.
“I haven’t heard any concerns brought up from the folks on the hiring committee or the community,” he said. “If folks do, I hope they reach out. That is something council members will have to consider.”