KNOXVILLE — A controversial decision was made to approve the appointment of Nick Bonstall as Knoxville's new Fire Chief at a salary of $59,000, a sum that is $4,000 more than the highest advertised amount of pay for the position.
The Knoxville City Council voted to approve City Manager Harold Stewart's appointment of Bonstall. By Code, the city manager appoints the fire chief, but it must be approved by the council.
Councilors April Verwers and Elsie Kemp voted against the ratification. They had concerns about Bonstall's salary request.
"He knew what the salary range was," Verwers said.
Stewart told the council that it was likely that if he were to return to Bonstall with the $55,000 offer, Bonstall would reject it. He predicted the same thing would happen if that sum were presented to the other remaining finalist. One of the three finalists, not yet identified, dropped out before Monday night's council meeting.
"My guess is he would decline the position," Stewart said.
Stewart indicated that Mayor Don Zoutte had called for salary comparisons prior to Monday's meeting. Oskaloosa's fire chief makes $62,000; Newton-$91,000; Grinnell-$73,000; Creston-$81,000 and Centerville-$49,000. All of these department heads handle fire and not EMS. The Knoxville chief is responsible for both.
In addition to the pay, Bonstall will also be offered three weeks vacation, a benefit one typically has to work seven years for the City to earn.
"I feel it's a slap in the face to our employees who have been here," Verwers said.
Councilor Dave Roozeboom defended the action, because Bonstall has prior experience. Details of his work history have not yet been made public, but the Journal-Express intends to gather more information for the Dec. 7 print edition.
"When you've been some place 15 years, the experience comes with you," Roozeboom said. He and Councilor Carolyn Formanek want to set benchmarks, or goals, for him to meet on the job.
Councilor Tim Pitt, who has been involved in the fire chief search since February, believes Bonstall is the best person for the job. He added that Stewart has a "vision" for Knoxville, which he supports and believes hiring Bonstall is one piece of making that vision a reality.
Bonstall will also receive $1,200 to assist in transition expenses. This and the vacation are comparable to what was offered to Assistant City Manager Dylan Feik.
Feik told the council that seniority does not play a role in management positions, such as that of the fire chief.
Members of Knoxville's Fire/Rescue Department were present at Monday's meeting, whom have expressed support to make Interim Fire Chief Greg Higginbotham permanent in the position. They declined to comment following the vote.
Look for full reports on the council in the Dec. 7 Journal-Express.