Oxford Volunteer Fire Chief turns in resignation
Council’s concerns about economy also drive purchase cuts
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.