Boise will soon have a new Fire Chief.
Eight days after Mayor Lauren McLean’s surprise selection of Meridian Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer to head up the Boise Fire Department, BoiseCity Council unanimously voted to confirm him. All of the council members praised Niemeyer’s history of collaboration with local partners and leadership, but council leadership acknowledged the unusual process to name Niemeyer could have been better executed.
McLean launched a nationwide search after the resignation of former Chief Dennis Doan in March and she named two out of state finalists in October. City council members, firefighters and other stakeholders interviewed both candidates and they took questions from the public in a town hall. But, McLean decided neither candidate was right for Boise and reached out to Niemeyer herself to offer him the job.
Council Leadership raises process questions
City Council President Elaine Clegg said she was “delighted” Niemeyer was selected. Clegg said she understood some council members hoped for a different process to pick Niemeyer, she praised McLean’s quick action to fill the crucial position during a record spike in COVID-19 cases. She also said getting a fire chief as quickly as possible was important for upcoming budget talks between the Mayor, City Council, Fire Chief and the Boise Fire Union.
However, she expressed some regret about how the news broke to the public and that the original search didn’t yield the final candidate.
“I would take a little bit of blame myself for not pushing for maybe a little bit different way to announce it,” Clegg said. “I would suggest the Mayor has some blame on that and we’ll all get better. It’s City Council Member (Lisa) Sanchez who said many times ‘this job doesn’t come with any training and you get up here and do the best you can’ and hopefully your experience and instincts lead you to that. Ultimately what it led to was a really good candidate.”
City Council Member Holli Woodings, who participated in the original search process, was critical of the decision to name Niemeyer a week before the vote. Woodings told BoiseDev last week she learned of McLean’s choice 20 minutes before the public announcement.
“I think we all wish we did a different process,” Woodings said. “I think it’s because with the way this was announced, we never had the chance and the opportunity to really objectively evaluate Mr. Niemeyer’s qualifications, work history and expertise.”
Finding the right fit
Prior to the vote, McLean said the original search process helped her understand a local candidate was needed and Niemeyer was the right choice, even if he didn’t originally apply. She said talking to Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling about the possibility of hiring Niemeyer helped her decide to choose him in the way that she did.
“It was the Mayor of Nampa that told me this process was different. It wasn’t what everyone expected and it wasn’t what I expected. Debbie said to me a process works when the person that has to make a hiring decision goes through a process, talks to people who have applied, talks to her team of people that have to work with that person, and hears from the community and learns from it.”
City Council Member Patrick Bageant, another participant in the original search, said he had some hard questions and concerns about appointing Niemeyer. But, after their meeting Bageant was impressed with his candid answers in their meeting and voted to confirm him.
“I have no doubts about this gentleman’s integrity and his ability to articulate what he believes in and defend it,” Bageant said.
In another meeting, City Council Member Lisa Sanchez asked Niemeyer about diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. She said Niemeyer admitted he was not an expert in the topic, but he was open to more training.
“That gives me hope for our community and for our city and for us as an organization that we have people who are humble enough to say ‘I don’t know, but I am willing to learn’” Sanchez said. “We need more of that actually.”
Niemeyer will formally start in the position later this month, and a swearing in is slated for early December.