The City of Omaha has a new fire chief, but his hiring isn't without it's critics.
Mayor Jean Stothert announced that Dan Olsen has been named fire chief Wednesday morning. Olsen has been acting as interim chief since May, when Chief Bernie Kanger retired. In a statement, Stothert says "Chief Olsen's priority has always been the safety of our citizens and firefighters. He is very qualified, trusted and tested and will be a strong leader."
Ten candidates applied for the position, which was cut down to four. Olsen was not one of top four highest scoring candidates on a three-part test who were referred to Mayor Stothert for interviews and selection. But when one candidate dropped out and a second candidate was eliminated by Mayor Stothert, the next highest scoring candidates were notified and interviewed, including Olsen. According to the mayor's office, city code allows a candidate can be eliminated from consideration based on an approved job related reason. Mayor Stothert used her right to eliminate one candidate after the interview and background check. The city's Human Resources director approved the mayor's justification for rejection and referred the next candidate, which was Olsen, for an interview.
Olsen is a 24 year veteran of the fire department with extensive experience in command positions such as Captain, Battalion Chief, Assistant Chief and Interim Chief. He is also a certified police officer and graduated from the police academy in 2001.
Omaha Professional Firefighters Union President Steve LeClair released this statement on Olsen's appointment as fire chief:
We acknowledge Chief Olsen's service to the City of Omaha and we will continue to work with him to protect the interests of the 630 men and women who serve our city as members of the Omaha Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Our members demand transparency and fairness throughout the promotional process and expect that those values were followed during the Mayor's selection of the Chief of the Department. Two of our members were among the final four candidates. Those members, the members-at-large of the Omaha Professional Fire Fighters, and the general public should demand assurance that the process the Mayor followed was fair and impartial.
Regardless of who the Mayor has selected as Fire Chief, the process used to select him, and her reasons for doing so, our primary goal is to protect our members and the public and exceed the national standards when it comes to response times and quality of emergency services. We will carry on that mission today, tomorrow and in the future.
Mayoral candidate and State Senator Heath Mello also criticized today's hiring, calling it a political move. In a statement, Mello says "Today's political announcement shouldn't surprise anyone based on what Mayor Stothert has been advocating for the past four years," said Mello. "The Mayor's 'my way or the highway' approach has turned this routine hiring process into a purely political circus to get the one person she appointed interim Fire Chief back in April into the position of her choosing."
"For this Mayor to skirt city ordinance to simply hire an interim Fire Chief who was ranked sixth out of 10 applicants is what we would expect to see in Chicago, not Omaha. I believe that Omaha deserves better than sixth place" said Mello. "Just last week, Mayor Stothert said government transparency is one of her highest priorities. It's crystal clear that with today's Fire Chief announcement, Mayor Stothert has made having a nontransparent, rigged selection process a higher priority."