Officials: No rift between board, fire department

Published 2:45 am Friday, April 25, 2003

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The delay in filling a vacancy on the Niles Township Fire Department is no reflection on any lack of faith among the township's board of trustees in the township's new fire chief, Craig Lear, said Niles Township's Treasurer Jim Ringler.
Lear agrees.
Lear, who was only hired himself earlier this year, recently selected Robert Ruff from a field of 29 candidates to fill the firefighter position, which has been vacant for a number of months.
Lear's pick came after candidates completed a battery of tests and interviews which included evaluations from two other area fire chiefs. Some trustees attended the open interviews, as well.
Lear's choice of Ruff was approved unanimously by the township's Public Safety Committee. However, when it came time for the township's board of trustees to approve the Safety Committee's recommendation, Lear's choice failed by a vote of four to three.
However, Township Supervisor Bill Myers, who is a member of the Safety Committee and had voted on it to approve the hiring of Ruff, changed his vote and did not support Lear's pick of Ruff when the issue came before the trustees.
Myers did not return a telephone message left for him at his office on Thursday.
Ringler said board members who voted against Lear's choice, which included trustees Richard Cooper and Richard Noble, Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt and Myers, did so "from the standpoint of what is best for Niles Township.
Ringler said there is nothing in the township's contract with its firefighters that prohibits the board from giving preference to volunteers from within its department.
Ringler said this was the stance, too, not too long ago when Lear was a candidate for the township's chief's position.
Trustee Richard Noble said his vote against Lear's pick of Ruff was not intended as any disrespect for Ruff, "and I told him that."
Noble favored candidate Tim Jesswein, he said. Jesswein has since withdrawn as a candidate for the job.
Noble said he was a leader in supporting Lear when he was a candidate for the chief's job in Niles Township and that his support of Lear continues.
Ringler said the hiring process in place at present is a difficult one and needs to be fine-tuned. The board actually removed the present hiring policy from its policies and procedures listing, but has yet to replace it with another one.
While Ringler and trustees Robert Jones and Kevin Tonkin voted in favor of hiring Ruff, Ringler said all four who voted no were present at the firefighter candidates' interviews.