By Steve Woodhouse
I’ll admit it and it should probably come as no surprise to anyone that I was disappointed in the Knoxville City Council for agreeing to pay fire chief hire Nick Bonstall $4,000 more than advertised.
That was my initial reaction. That being said, I understand why the three who voted for it (Dave Roozeboom, Tim Pitt and Carolyn Formanek) did so. I still don’t agree with it, but I can follow their reasoning.
They want a fire chief that can lead the department into Knoxville’s growth period, if it comes. I hope growth does come to Knoxville, but it hasn’t happened yet. Should the City shell out the money for the people they want to oversee the Knoxville they hope to some day have, before that Knoxville is a reality? Is it possible to achieve the Knoxville they want without having these people in place?
While I don’t discount the importance of a strong fire/rescue department, I don’t know how much impact a fire chief can have on the potential to grow Knoxville.
I’m still an advocate for Greg Higginbotham as fire chief. I know he just wants what’s best for the department, but I continue to believe that having a leader who’s already here, loves the community, etc., should be able to provide better leadership over a new guy coming in. The money is still very relevant, but to me, Greg’s lower paycheck is less of a factor than his heart and dedication.
During my conversation with Bonstall, he struck me as a very nice guy. I genuinely am eager to meet him face to face and eager to form a good working relationship with him. His resume says he is qualified and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he is sincere when he says he wants to plant roots here, as well as his reasoning for asking for more money than the position was advertised for.
But again, while I can see it and understand it, I don’t agree with it. (People can disagree and still get along.)
To me, asking for more money after learning you are the top candidate seems kind of dishonest. You knew what the advertised pay level was. If you wanted more, why did you apply?
This is especially true in local government finance, probably because it’s easy to confiscate more money from taxpayers and other citizens than asking for more money from a private sector business.
In the scheme of the City’s budget, another $4,000 isn’t going to break us. It’s the principle of the thing.
Have we as a people, and even the Knoxville City Council, become so powerless that we have to give in to every demand made of us?
Is it right to pay above and beyond what as advertised, especially at a time when no one knows what federal tax increases they will see in the next few years, and there are already numerous people in this community struggling to get by?
I don’t think that’s right.
This is not intended to be an attack on Harold Stewart. He was hired to do a job and tasked with finding the best person he could to fill the fire chief position. I believe Stewart did what he thought was best and, given the pay scale for qualified fire chiefs, and that this was the third round of the search, he probably didn’t have any other choice than to ask the council for the extra money.
With that being the case, what is the future for small, volunteer fire departments? Will we ever be able to have another homegrown, less expensive fire chief again?
What is the future of local government department heads, in general? Is there just going to be this perpetual class of workers who will be the only ones with the skills and qualifications necessary to oversee these departments? Are we going to have to continue to keep paying more and more to these people, just so we can feel “competitive,” even if we cannot afford it?
I guess so. Take care of yourself and thank you for reading.