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Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Council rejects candidate

St. Marys, New search for safety director to begin after Foxhoven denied post

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - The search for a new safety service director must begin again, as interim director Greg Foxhoven was denied a full-time position by council members Monday.
An ordinance authorizing mayor Pat McGowan to permanently hire Foxhoven failed 4-3 Monday, despite several city employees speaking in Foxhoven's favor. The ordinance would have waived the city's requirements that the candidate be a licensed engineer and live within city limits.
Foxhoven was the St. Marys police chief for nine and a half years prior to being named interim safety service director in February. He lives about a mile outside city limits.
Council members Jim Harris, Ron Ginter, Bill Slemmons and Dennis Vossler voted against hiring the longtime police chief, saying the high standards required for the job are the reason St. Marys has flourished in recent years.
Vossler said council members passed an ordinance many years ago setting the standards for the position in order to protect the city. Before the ordinance, the mayor could hire whomever he or she wanted without council approval.
"I personally think the ordinance is there to protect the city," he said. "I look at St. Marys as a great example for other cities to try to emulate because we got involved in this process early on, and ... having a safety service director with high qualifications has put us ahead of the game in a lot of respects."
Vossler said he believes that's the reason St. Marys is healthier financially with better utility systems than other area municipalities.
"I think the world of Greg Foxhoven; honesty and integrity, that's what you expect out of someone who's your police chief," he said. "What I would like to see is someone that sits at the service director job is someone who comes in with qualifications."
Harris said he was very torn by the decision but ultimately sided with Vossler.
"My biggest concern was not your merits," Harris said to Foxhoven during the meeting. "I've said to your face your leadership skills are exemplary, your management skills, no question, and right now I think what this building needs is leadership. But what kind of precedent am I setting for the council members to follow for the next one, and that's where I have a problem."
After the meeting McGowan said he was frustrated with council.
"It's extremely disappointing," he said. "The four councilors that voted no set the city back."
He hired Pat Hire, human resources representative from Clemens Nelson & Associates, Lima, as a courtesy to council. Hire, whose services cost the city more than $10,000, recommended Foxhoven.
"I think we just passed by a golden goose, so to speak," he said. "So now I'm perplexed what my next move will be ... We had such a qualified person sitting right there."
Council member John Bubp, who voted to hire Foxhoven, said he received two phone calls from city workers who spoke in favor of hiring him. Harris said he hadn't received so many phone calls on one issue in a very long time.
City utility office supervisor Carol Lengerich and fire chief Joey Weaver addressed council before the vote, encouraging them to hire Foxhoven.
"Ever since he has stepped in as safety service director, the lines of communication between Greg and all employees, not just department heads, have been opened; this has not happened for a very long time," Lengerich said. "He is willing to listen to everyone's concerns, not only employees, but the residents of St. Marys ... You can come to him with something, he listens to you and he gets something worked out."
Weaver said Foxhoven has proven his capabilities as police chief and as director.
"In my opinion, if he is not appointed to that position, it would be a disservice to the city," he said. "We need ... a person with leadership qualities and good managerial skills ... and I think Greg is the answer to this question."
Law director Kraig Noble and council president Dan Hoelscher also spoke in favor of hiring Foxhoven.
"I firmly believe council should pass this ordinance," Noble said. "I've been involved and was asked to sit in on interviews the last three times. I've talked to 10 different candidates, interviewed them, and Clemens and Nelson, who we hired and paid good money to, made a recommendation ... I think the fact that city workers have come forward and spoken speaks directly to that."
In the last 18 months, McGowan has hired and lost two safety service directors. Foxhoven replaced former director Eric Ostling, who was fired from his position in January. McGowan would not give a reason for Ostling's dismissal but has said he wanted to go in another direction.
Ostling, formerly of Chesterfield, Mich., replaced former safety service director Jason Little, of Washington Courthouse, who resigned Oct. 29 after seven months on the job. Little replaced Tom Hitchcock, who resigned the position at the end of 2011 to become safety service director in Celina.
Hoelscher said hiring Foxhoven would settle things in the city and help them move forward with new development and other issues.
"We've been almost two years with everything up in the air with two different service directors and Greg has been serving as manager for quite a while now," he said. "People from the outside are looking in, and they're waiting for us to get this thing resolved."
Foxhoven will stay on as interim director until McGowan can interview and consider new candidates. McGowan said he didn't know of a timeline or what his next steps will be. He pointed out, however, that the four council members who voted against the measure will be leaving council at the end of the year. Vossler, Slemmons and Ginter chose not to run again and Harris was defeated by Dan Uhlenhake in the primary election.
Also during Monday's meeting, council, scheduled traffic and finance committee meetings for 5:15 p.m. and 6 p.m. respectively on Monday. The next regular meeting is 7 p.m. July 22.
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