AUBURN — Chiefs and other personnel from volunteer fire departments throughout Cayuga County packed the Legislative Chambers Tuesday night to request the return of a longtime deputy director of the county's Emergency Management Offices.
While county officials asked the the speakers not to name the deputy director or discuss any other personnel matters, multiple chiefs confirmed after the meeting they were referring to former Deputy Director Maureen Conley.
The request comes after the department's only remaining full-time employee, Deputy Director Niel Rivenburgh, was placed on administrative leave Feb. 15.
Officials declined to comment on the move, citing personnel matters, but it came after many of the chiefs also present Tuesday voiced concerns about Rivenburgh following the abrupt resignation Conley and the then newly-appointed director of the office in January.
Speaking in the public forum section of Tuesday's Legislature meeting, multiple fire services members described Conley as an exemplary employee, and asked for her to be allowed back into the position.
The chiefs also presented the Legislature with letters from the county's fire Battalions 5 and 6, which together represent more than 10 different departments, expressing "no confidence" in the state of the EMO, which currently has no full-time employees, and for Conley to return.
"We all here as fire chiefs and fire personnel, we're here because you guys know what you need to do," Sempronius Fire Chief Tyler Bloodgood told the legislators.
All of the speakers, including members from the Aurelius, Scipio, and Moravia fire departments, described Conley's dedication to the job and how she would go above and beyond to help emergency responders.
Moravia Fire Chief Bill Anderson said Conley took the same classes firefighters are required to so she could better understand how to work with them.
"We have lost an employee who is dedicated to our county and fire departments," Anderson said, adding that, in the event of a major emergency, Conley was the first person he would call.
County Administrator J. Justin Woods said, as part of his monthly report to the Legislature, that he expected to be able to advertise for director of Emergency Services position shortly, with representation from the fire community on the search committee.
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"We have been working from the administrative side of the house to reach out to fire crew chiefs, listen to their input, their feedback," Woods said, noting that the county had held several meetings this month to discuss the topic with fire personnel.
When a new director is in place, Woods said, the plan would be to build capacity around that position, allowing them to structure the office as they felt was best, including personnel decisions.
According to local county law, for an exempt position such as the deputy director, the Legislature authorizes the filling of a position, with the appointment made by typically either the relevant department head or the county administrator.
For a department head position, the administrator is either authorized to make an appoint or the Legislature accepts or declines appointing a recommendation provided by the administrator.
In the meantime, Woods said state emergency officials were working with the county, including offering planning and technical assistance and remaining on standby should a major emergency necessitate and emergency operations center.
Following normal resolutions, the Legislature was not set to take any action on the issue. However, Legislator Andrew Dennison, R-Ira, noting the room full of fire personnel still in attendance, asked if they could be given an answer.
"We know what they're looking for, so how do we get there?" Dennison asked. "Let's not let them walk out the door tonight without letting them know where we stand."
Legislators then entered into an executive session for the stated reason of discussing the employment of a particular person. Following the executive session, the Legislature adjourned with no action.
Chairman Tucker Whitman, R-Sterling, said after the county would continue to move forward with staffing the Emergency Management Office, and that it was his personal preference to move in the direction outlined by Woods.
"I think that we should be receptive to the professionals in the community and the concerns that they raised this evening, and act in an expeditious manner to resolve this issue," Legislator Chris Petrus, R-Brutus said after speaking with several of the chiefs.
Several of the chiefs expressed disappointment at the outcome and the lack of resolution it brought to the office.
"I wish the outcome was different, but I understand there's a process," Anderson said.
Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin