PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp’s proposal on July 9 to abolish the title of Fire Chief echoed a move about a decade ago to abolish the title of Police Chief.
It was in June 2007 that Police Chief Edward Santiago saw the plan on then-Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig’s Power Point presentation, with no prior warning that his job was on the line. Santiago’s reaction outside the meeting was “What you see is a dangerous politicization of the police department.”
Fire Chief Frank Tidwell was not present at the July 9 meeting, but gave a similar reaction when asked for comment by email, writing, “To abolish the fire chief position in favor of a fire director is counterproductive and hampers operational effectiveness. It kills the aspirations of company officers and buries the dreams of our children. I am opposed to eliminating the position of fire chief. Politics and public safety is a bad mix when you remove the highest ranking official in the fire division.”
The Police Chief title was abolished in March 2008. Mapp said he will seek the governing body’s approval for his new table of organization, including a “Fire Director” to replace the Fire Chief title, in August. The restructuring also includes creating seven city departments to replace the current three.
Santiago was given a choice in 2008 to leave, or stay on as a captain. He chose the latter and through a quirk in the salary structure received higher pay than when he was chief. No such option was mentioned Monday for Tidwell, who said on Facebook he intends to retire in 13 months.
Hellwig went on to hold the title of Police Director in addition to being the Public Safety department head, in effect reporting to himself. Mapp’s plan calls for splitting Public Safety into separate Police and Fire departments with civilian directors.
As both Tidwell and Santiago noted, having a civilian director removes the opportunity for a career fire or police official to attain and hold the rank of chief even as administrations change. A civilian director may or may not be retained when a mayor forms his or her cabinet.
The title “Fire Director” does not appear on the current Civil Service Commission job title list. In a 2012 dispute in Orange, officials were told to use “Director of Public Safety” as the title for a civilian in charge of the Fire Department.
The August 13 City Council meeting is another combined agenda-fixing and regular session, starting at 7 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.