Township ousts Lear as fire chief, 4 to 3

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Niles Township's Board of Trustees voted four to three Monday night to remove Craig Lear as fire chief.
Supervisor Bill Myers said the vote came after a two-hour special meeting called by the board to perform Lear's one-year evaluation as fire chief. The special meeting was closed at Lear's request.
He said he and trustees Kevin Tonkin and Jones voted in favor of keeping Lear in his position as chief.
Treasurer Jim Ringler, Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt, Richard Cooper and Dick Noble voted against the motion to retain Lear as chief.
Trustees Cooper, Durm-Hiatt and Ringler left after Monday night's meeting to travel to a Michigan Township Association convention in Lansing and were not available for comment.
Lear did not return phone messages left for him.
Trustee Dick Noble said this morning his vote of dissent was based on "a lot of study, please believe me. I'm at the township every day."
Noble said in his years of serving on the township board, "I've never seen morale this low.
He said he's spoken to many firemen and didn't make his decision about Lear quickly.
Noble said it is his feeling and the feeling of some firefighters that Lear didn't share enough praise with them. He said firefighter Mark Brandon spent 80 hours writing and applying for a grant that secured more than $50,000 for equipment for the township's fire department, yet "I don't think there was enough praise given to Mark Brandon for doing this."
Myers said Gary Brovold will serve as interim chief until a full-time replacement is hired. He said no member of the department has successfully passed the test required for fire chiefs in Michigan other than Lear, which means the department likely will look outside its ranks for a new fire chief.
Lear has the opportunity to return to the township's department as a full-time firefighter, which Myers said he indicated Monday night that he would do. He's scheduled to resume his shift work for the township on Wednesday.
Monday night's vote followed a particularly heated, contentious meeting last week at which the township narrowly voted to enter into an automatic mutual aid agreement with the City of Niles.
Niles City Council voted Monday night unanimously to approve the same agreement.
Lear is a cousin of Niles City Fire Chief Larry Lamb, a fact that apparently bothered some on the township's mostly volunteer fire department for fear that the coalition would move the township away from dependence on its volunteers and toward operating too closely with the city's full-time fire department.
Cooper is a long-time volunteer fire fighter, as are members of his immediate family. Myers said Michigan Township Association has no rule expressly prohibiting Cooper from serving as both a volunteer with the department and a township trustee.

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