The city council voted unanimously Monday evening, June 12, to separate the vacant public safety director’s position into two distinct jobs: one police chief and one fire chief.
The police and fire departments were condensed into one as a cost-cutting measure after the retirement of a fire chief in the mid-1990s, and the practice continued throughout the tenure of Dino Richardson and his successor, Tommy Freeman.
Freeman was fired as public safety director on May 16 after an internal investigation conducted by Etheridge confirmed departmental complaints of his mistreatment of employees and reduced work ethic. The firing came as a relief to many in the department who had felt under constant threat by Freeman’s dictatorial style, they said.
The city hopes to avoid such issues in the future by returning accountability to the police and fire departments through the implementation of two separate chiefs.
After the council’s agreement, Etheridge immediately moved forward to create and display job postings within the current departments.
The decision to appoint Clift and Busby was made just under one week later: Clift was chosen out of four internal applicants and Busby was picked out of three.
Etheridge praised the four internal applicants for police chief, saying “each of them has 14-plus years of service with our public safety department and each would bring a unique set of skills and experiences. I weighed the history of the department, their current positions, and their education and training. This department needs to move forward without revisiting issues from the past. As such, I selected assistant public safety director Benjamin Clift, who has been acting as the interim public safety chief since Tommy Freeman's departure. ”
“ In reviewing the applications (for fire chief),” said Etheridge, “all three individuals could successfully lead the department. I selected Robert M. Busby Jr. based on his tenure, experience, and being the senior staff person (captain) in the fire division of public safety. I fully believe that he will prove a capable fire chief. ”
The new appointments should be effective immediately.