Wednesday, May 17, 2006

'I held Greg Schwab responsible'

Tracy says morale, communication problems plagued fire chief's tenure

Express Staff Writer

One Ketchum City Council person thinks former Fire Chief Greg Schwab should be looking inward for answers about his separation from the city payroll.

Terry Tracy read a written statement during a City Council meeting Monday, May 15. In it, she categorized Schwab's management as fraught with communication and morale problems.

Last month, the Council unanimously approved a $100,000 payment to Schwab, placing him on unpaid administrative leave with benefits until Oct. 20, 2006, or until he gets another job.

"My vote asking former Fire Chief Greg Schwab to resign from the Ketchum Fire Department had nothing to do with anyone other than Greg Schwab," Tracy's statement says. "I did what I thought was best for the Fire Department and for the residents and taxpayers of Ketchum."

She didn't comment sooner because she "was under the impression that when dealing with personnel matters, confidentiality was standard policy."

Schwab, in an interview with the Mountain Express April 25, elaborated on his side of the disagreement, saying he was "pushed out."

Former mayor Ed Simon said last week that Schwab's ousting was political, and that his political rival Mayor Randy Hall had been trying for two years to get rid of Schwab.

Schwab and Simon believe Hall's dual positions with the city—as mayor and volunteer fire fighter—are a conflict of interest.

Hall, who also was on the City Council during Simon's tenure, said he recused himself from all discussions about Schwab and didn't vote on the payment.

Although the council's resolution says Schwab's was a "voluntary resignation," he maintains it was political and said Hall's dual positions undermined Schwab's authority.

Tracy countered that he brought on his own problems.

"In my opinion, the only one who prevented Greg Schwab from doing his job was Greg Schwab," she said. "As we all know, when a team is having difficulties ... the team is not fired or asked to resign. What I perceived to be a serious morale and communication problem existed within the Fire Department team and I held Greg Schwab responsible."

Tracy also blamed Simon for writing performance evaluations for Schwab that "did not reflect any of the ongoing problems within the Fire Department, nor did they make mention of the Council's concerns."

She also pointed to a series of meetings the council had with Schwab, recommendations they made to help improve communication between Schwab and his department, and an outside facilitator who was brought in for the City Council but extended his mediation to the Fire Department.

"Every effort was made to encourage Greg to work on his people skills," she said.

Tracy said the $100,000 payment was authorized in order to avoid a potentially costly and drawn-out lawsuit, "a lawsuit that would have been based, in large part, on evaluations that painted only a partial picture."

Schwab said last month that he is proud of his record of service with the department.

Tracy said there was much room for improvement, both in communication and technical and professional aspects.

"I held Greg Schwab responsible," she said, "and I'm sorry the accountability was so costly."

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