The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “temporary” as “lasting for a limited time.” So how long is a limited time? When it comes to “temporary” personnel appointments made by the city manager of Johnson City, the city charter states they should be no more than 90 days.
But as Press staff writer Gary B. Gray reported in Friday’s paper, City Manager Pete Peterson has stretched his temporary appointments for interim fire chief well past that time frame. Peterson appointed Johnson City Fire Capt. Mark Scott as interim fire chief in late February. Scott replaced Mark Finucane, who had been serving as interim chief since Paul Greene’s retirement in 2009.
While the city manager has the ultimate power to hire or fire the police chief and fire chief, the city charter grants city commissioners the authority to approve or disapprove his temporary appointments. Because commissioners have taken no action to “disapprove” of his actions, Peterson told the Press by email that he believes that should be “considered as the Commission’s approval of the interim appointments.”
Only in government could such logic prevail.
There is no question Peterson has used due caution in considering who should be the city’s next fire chief. Peterson said leaving the job unfilled, as well as vacant positions for chief building codes official and parks and recreation director, has allowed him to save tax dollars. For that he should be commended.
We fear stretching out the process of filling these positions, however, does considerable harm to the cohesiveness of these very important departments. We are particularly concerned with how Peterson’s extended temporary appointments of an interim fire chief have impacted the morale of city firefighters.
It’s time for Peterson to put an end to the temporary appointments and name a new fire chief. It’s also time for city commissioners to make their voices heard — loud and clear — when it comes to extended temporary appointments.