Fire board axes communications manager job

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Deputy chief’s duties to be adjusted as part of effort to trim salary expenses

By Vicky Gits

The job reduction is part of an ongoing initiative, spearheaded by board member George Kling, to reduce the layers of management and shrink salary costs.

Fire Chief Garry DeJong said he would follow the board’s mandate and make sure McMahan’s departure doesn’t negatively impact either the department or the public. “The board is trying to find ways to make the organization more effective and efficient, and that’s where we are headed,” DeJong said.

The news came as a surprise to McMahan, who has been in the job for 14 months.

“For the last few weeks, I have just been stunned,” McMahan said. She is worried about finding another job in a tight job market.

McMahan has 27 years of experience in her field and previously worked for the city of Denver for 18 years. She has been instrumental in helping the department write a $731,000 Homeland Security grant to pay for a new radio system. (Authorities are expected to announce the grant recipients soon.) The department would pay $180,000 in matching funds.

This year the fire board approved the purchase of new $300,000 tanker truck, in addition to the current fleet of six tanker trucks.

The lone objection to eliminating McMahan’s job came from board President Chick Dykeman, who voted no on the proposal.

Board members George Kling, Charles Simon, Jeff DeDisse and George Goldbach voted to eliminate the job.

“In the last five years, we have increased the number of supervisors for the same amount of people by leaps and bounds,” DeDisse said.

“There’s (Nick Boukas, deputy chief of support services), there’s two shift supervisors under Deanna, Deanna reports to Nick, and Nick reports to the chief. That’s when I figured out there was too much reporting for people in that structure,” DeDisse said Aug. 14 in a phone interview.

Voice of opposition

“I’m philosophically opposed to eliminating positions and cutting salaries in this economy. It just doesn’t go along with my thinking,” Dykeman said Aug. 12. “I can’t agree with cutting people, especially after you just hired them.”

The job cuts are not being driven by economic circumstances, Dykeman said. “We are in great shape. (Chief DeJong) has been doing a great job of reducing expenses when we can without reducing the quality we provide.”

Unlike some others, Dykeman said he does not feel the administration is top heavy.

The communications manager’s job pays $67,000 a year, or about 6 percent under the median pay level for a comparable position in the metro area, based on a survey by the Mountain States Employers Council.

Rethinking deputy chief’s job

In addition to cutting the communications manager’s job, the board approved a possible salary cut and responsibility downgrade for deputy chief of support services Nick Boukas. The deputy chief job currently pays $84,050.

Under a structure set up about 18 months ago under DeJong, five managers’ jobs report to the deputy chief of support services (communications, training, EMS, IT and maintenance). The deputy chief reports to the chief.

Boukas said Aug. 17 he had no comment.

Separately, training coordinator Ben Celius will be asked to focus more on the original training coordinator job description. It was not clear in what respect the job had diverged from its original intent.

Two of the jobs that were targeted were among the top three paid jobs in the fire department. Other highly paid jobs are the chief ($105,000), fire marshal ($70,000) and fleet manager ($73,000).

Critical perspective

The move to cut jobs is spearheaded by newly elected board member and former volunteer firefighter Kling, a longtime critic of the fire board’s personnel decisions.

At the May 27 meeting, Kling asked the chief to focus on the job responsibilities of three positions, making the case that fire department salaries had grown disproportionally large compared to the number of calls and the size of the fire district.

Kling said department salaries had grown from 17 percent of the budget in 2000 to 28.6 percent in 2008. The department reported 1,976 emergency calls in 2008 and 2,1333 in 2007, according to Boukas.

In a telephone interview Aug. 12, Kling said he targeted the three jobs as “areas of inefficiency I thought we could improve in.”

He did not know how much the reorganization would save the department in terms of dollars.

He also denied that he was undoing the organizational structure that the new chief put in place after he took over department operations in October 2007.

“I wouldn’t say it’s undoing anything. I would say it’s further finessing. That’s how I run my family. If it’s not working, we make a change. It’s normal to search for what’s proper. That’s what successful companies do,” Kling said.

“I didn’t feel like the communications and EMS managers were tasked with a full-time load with managing the department and doing the job. … When you are managing two to 20 people, (management) is not a 40-hour week.”

Kling thought the changes would help save money and help morale.

“I think people like working for an efficient organization and not being burdened with an onerous administration.”