Fire Union Speaks Out Against Pick for Augusta (GA) Fire Chief

Susan McCord

The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

(MCT)

May 19—Augusta Professional Firefighters Association Local 3357 has kept its mouth shut about the city’s search for a new fire chief, Vice President Daniel Steele said, until now.

An Augusta Fire Department captain, Steele addressed the Augusta Commission on Tuesday about the search that led to the city’s selecting a single finalist, DeKalb Deputy Chief Antonio Burden, over several others. The city refused to release information about three other finalists until local media outlets filed an open records lawsuit.

“For such a high-profile job,” Steele said, “transparency is of the most importance.”

Since the city announced Burden was its top pick, documents and correspondence obtained by the media and others revealed Burden scored low on the city’s own criteria and had been “dismissed by the company hired to scout candidates for not meeting the criteria,” Steele said.

“We believe that the best candidate has not been selected,” he said.

Steele said Deputy Chief Shaw Williams has “done an excellent job” serving as interim Augusta chief.

The association was outspoken about former Chief Chris James and demanded his resignation for some time until James stepped down in November. Former Commissioner Bill Fennoy said racism drove the complaints against James. The four current finalists are African-American men.

One of the remaining three, Sterling Jones, has been active with fire unions. A retired Atlanta firefighter and Air Force veteran, Jones also was second-in-command as an Augusta deputy chief for several years and also served as interim 911 director. Jones, currently a deputy chief in South Fulton, was interim chief there while Augusta Administrator Odie Donald II was city manager.

The city’s other two identified finalists were Anthony Jackson, assistant fire chief over support services for the Newport News, Va., Fire Department and Carl Randolph Sr., a deputy chief with 25 years with the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Mayor Hardie Davis thanked Steele for voicing the concerns.

“They have been heard and resonated with everybody,” Davis said. None on the 10-member commission spoke afterward.

Also on Tuesday: — Eight commissioners voted in favor of allowing Davis to continue to drive an unmarked city vehicle after a recent annual public hearing. Two commissioners, John Clarke and Brandon Garrett, voted against.

—Donald cited the city finance department, led by Director Donna Williams, for being recognized for excellence in financial reporting by the Government Financial Officers Association.

—In an agenda addition, the commission approved a $640,000 loan for construction of Kendrick Place, a low- and moderate-income apartment complex located on Kendrick Place behind Sibley Mill. Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick and Cape Augusta developer Wayne Millar introduced the project, said Hawthorne Welcher, director of Augusta Housing and Community Development. Rents will range from $515 to $895, Welcher said.

—The commission rejected Commissioner Catherine Smith McKnight’s request to serve on a panel of four drawing new district lines for the commission and Richmond County Board of Education. Commissioner Ben Hasan motioned to approve the list as it was — with commissioners Sean Frantom, Sammie Sias, himself and Jordan Johnson — and make Sias chairman. Sias said the group needed a coordinator to “bring together ideas that we want to present.”

The four commissioners would serve with four school system trustees and four Augusta legislators who elect their own chair. A decade ago, work by the same committee was discarded and the lines drawn by a federal judge.

—The commission approved zoning for a new Aldi at 3121 Peach Orchard Road, to be located at the site of the former University Hospital medical complex.

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