Ox­ford Vol­un­teer Fire Chief turns in res­ig­na­tion

Coun­cil’s con­cerns about econ­omy also drive pur­chase cuts

The Covington News - - News - By Michelle Kim

The Ox­ford Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment turned out in force for the res­ig­na­tion of OVFD Chief Ja­son Stri­b­ling at the city coun­cil meet­ing Mon­day.

Stri­b­ling, dressed in a civil­ian shirt and tie, rapidly read his res­ig­na­tion let­ter aloud as 10 to 15 vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers and fam­ily mem­bers stood in the back of the room.

“Ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately, I re­sign due to the dis­trust in my skills as a fire chief and the ap­par­ent dis­trust in Ox­ford Vol­un­teer Fire/Res­cue,” he said.

He ref­er­enced a May 9 memo that pro­hib­ited vol­un­teer fire­men from us­ing lights and sirens in re­spond­ing to emer­gency calls, due to the risk of ac­ci­dents and unau­tho­rized use of lights/sirens, and the Sept. 19 de­ci­sion to have New­ton County fire units dis­patched along­side OVFD units in­stead of wait­ing to be re­quested un­der mu­tual aid.

Stri­b­ling de­scribed his ef­forts to re­build the fire sta­tion, af­ter it was closed sev­eral years ago fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of a pre­vi­ous fire chief, from nine to 23 per­son­nel. He said the depart­ment was able to re­duce re­sponse times to an av­er­age of five min­utes and had never missed a call.

Rose­berry, in the Sept. 22 city coun­cil work ses­sion, said he had re­ceived ci­ti­zen com­plaints about the time it took for the depart­ment to re­spond to in­ci­dents and had ob­served var­i­ous in­frac­tions of the poli­cies laid out in the May 9 memo.

Af­ter the pub­lic por­tion of the meet­ing, fire­fight­ers ex­pressed their dis­sat­is­fac­tion out­side the com­mu­nity room.

“For the mayor to al­low a fire chief to go who brought (the Ox­ford Fire Depart­ment) back up to par is not good city plan­ning to me,” said vol­un­teer fire­fighter Sonny Worley.

In­terim Fire Chief Nor­man Hunt pointed out that Ox­ford res­i­dents would have to pay ad­di­tional fire taxes if the city re­ceived its cov­er­age from the county fire depart­ment, while Ox­ford Vol­un­teer Fire ser­vices were free.

Rose­berry said the city spends an av­er­age of $20,000 a year on the OVFD, and that the city was in dis­cus­sions with the county re­gard­ing the fire tax, which would cost the av­er­age home­owner less than $100 a year if in­sti­tuted.

“I’m sorry (Stri­b­ling) felt it was nec­es­sary to re­sign,” Rose­berry said. “We wish him well and ap­pre­ci­ate what he’s done. It’s like any­thing else; you grow and need to make changes.”

The city’s growth called for full-time, round-the-clock cov­er­age with trained per­son­nel and equip­ment stand­ing by -- a sen­ti­ment the coun­cil sup­ported, Rose­berry said.

“Any­thing less is not tak­ing care of busi­ness for the city,” he said. “I think that’s what the cit­i­zens want.” In other city busi­ness: The city coun­cil also ap­proved the schematic draw­ings and plans for the new city hall on West Clark Street, next to the old rock store, cre­ated by Carter Watkins As­so­ci­ates. The build­ing would cost ap­prox­i­mately $1 mil­lion to $1.2 mil­lion and be fi­nanced by a com­bi­na­tion of city funds, SPLOST money and pos­si­ble bonds, though the com­bi­na­tion is still be­ing worked out, said Coun­cilmem­ber Hoyt Oliver.

• The two-story, roughly 8,000 square-foot build­ing would con­tain a multi-pur­pose space for city coun­cil meet­ings, court and com­mu­nity events, as well as the city clerk offices and Ox­ford po­lice sta­tion.

• “The very strong feel­ing that’s been driv­ing us through the process, the plan­ning com­mis­sion and other who worked with it is that this build­ing is go­ing to set the tone for what­ever else de­vel­ops in the pro­posed town cen­ter area,” Oliver said.

Con­cerns for the state of the econ­omy and the city’s rev­enues in the com­ing year per­me­ated much of the coun­cil’s dis­cus­sions.

• A mo­tion for a side­walk construction bid on Mitchell Street was shot down in a 4-2 vote af­ter ques­tions were raised about bid spec­i­fi­ca­tions and project ur­gency.

• “I’m won­der­ing if this is a project that we re­ally have to move for­ward,” said Coun­cilmem­ber Ge­orge Holt. “We’re talk­ing about what we’ve got to cut back. We’ve got to start some­where.”

• Coun­cilmem­ber Terry Smith asked whether all five com­pa­nies, whose bids ranged from about $52,000 to $19,000, had re­ceived the same job spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Coun­cil­man Frank Davis said he had spo­ken with two of the com­pa­nies and the oth­ers had taken their in­for­ma­tion from the job ad­ver­tise­ment.

The pro­posed ac­qui­si­tion of two new po­lice ve­hi­cles to re­place two cur­rent pa­trol cars was re­duced to one ve­hi­cle – a 2009 six-cylin­der Chevro­let with new equip­ment and fit­tings for $21,309. Ox­ford Po­lice Chief Clark Miller said he would nurse the other ve­hi­cle through with re­pairs.

The coun­cil also dis­cussed putting ad­di­tional lim­its on the amount of salary that could be of­fered for the hire of a re­cently va­cated of­fi­cer po­si­tion, but de­cided against it, and sim­ply spec­i­fied a pay grade of 13, which ranges from $24,890 to $37,874.

The city coun­cil talked with landowner Cur­tis Jack­son about a pro­posed swap of four to five sewer line taps in re­turn for about 200 square feet of land for the widen­ing of Moore Street. Smith es­ti­mated each tap would cost the city about $3,800.

• Jack­son replied that if the city de­cided to con­demn the land, the cost of go­ing through the courts and at­tor­neys would be more than $16,000. The coun­cil fur­ther dis­cussed the is­sue in a closed ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion with the city at­tor­ney.

Sev­eral lo­cal candidates run­ning for of­fice stopped by to in­tro­duce them­selves to the city coun­cil, in­clud­ing Demo­crat Rudy Cox of McDonough, who is run­ning for the state se­nate seat in District 17, Board of Com­mis­sion­ers District 5 can­di­date Repub­li­can Tim Flem­ing and sher­iff can­di­date Repub­li­can Bill Wat­ter­son. State Sen. John Dou­glas (R-So­cial Cir­cle) also spoke about the state bud­get cuts.

• The coun­cil ap­proved the ap­pli­ca­tion for oc­cu­pa­tional tax li­censes of Sto­ries Cof­fee­house, to be run by Victory Taber­na­cle Church in the Old Rock Store on Emory Street, and El­lis’ Win­dow Clean­ing, which would have its ad­dress at a pri­vate home but re­port­edly not have any chem­i­cals stored there.

A spe­cial work ses­sion to dis­cuss the 2009 bud­get was sched­uled for Oct. 13, and a ses­sion to dis­cuss non-fi­nan­cial mat­ters was set for Oct. 20.

Erik Oliver, spe­cial as­sis­tant to the dean of Ox­ford Col­lege, ex­tended a spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion to Ox­ford res­i­dents for tours of the new dor­mi­tory build­ing on Oct. 13, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Tours to the wider pub­lic would be avail­able as well at a fu­ture date. For reser­va­tions or more in­for­ma­tion, call (770) 784-4692 or email erik.oliver@emory.edu.

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