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Atlanta suburb offers job to Lincoln's fire chief

Atlanta suburb offers job to Lincoln's fire chief

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For the second time in four years, Lincoln is likely to be on the lookout for a new fire chief.

On Tuesday, the Chamblee, Ga., City Council announced it had selected Lincoln Fire and Rescue Chief Niles Ford as the Atlanta suburb's new city manager.

If he accepts, Lincoln will be without a fire chief for the second time since 2007, when Mayor Chris Beutler selected Ford to replace embattled former Chief Mike Spadt. Former Mayor Coleen Seng had asked Spadt to resign after LFR bought $2 million worth of fire engines that didn't meet city specifications.

Ford's tenure has brought less controversy, but he never appeared to settle into the position.

He emerged as a finalist for fire chief in Austin, Texas, about a year after starting in Lincoln, but he wasn't selected for the job. At the time, he told the media he was recruited for the Texas job.

"Lincoln is a fantastic place," he said then. "It had nothing to do with me not being happy here. … I can't promise what'll happen tomorrow."

But, he said, he has a responsibility to consider other opportunities for the "betterment of family."

"I'm a dad and I'm a husband," he said.

Ford didn't respond to messages left at his office and work cell phone Tuesday.

Last week, Ford told KFOR radio he wouldn't accept the Chamblee position immediately if it were offered to him and planned to travel there before making a decision. He said his mother in Mississippi and sister in Alabama both suffer from health issues.

Chamblee Police Chief Marc Johnson, the interim city manager, said he thought Ford planned to accept the job. The two spoke last week when Johnson told Ford the other finalist, an Illinois village administrator, had withdrawn his application.

"He certainly sounded excited," Johnson said, adding that Ford likely would have been selected anyway.

Ford makes $119,205 a year in Lincoln, according to September figures. Johnson said Chamblee's new city manager likely would make between $110,000 and $130,000.

A statement from Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said Ford had been an outstanding fire chief. "While we are disappointed for our city, we are happy for Chief Ford as he undertakes the next stage of his career," Beutler said. "We wish him the best of luck in his new position."

Rick Hoppe, the mayor's chief of staff, said it was too early to discuss the selection for a new fire chief. He said he didn't have any early ideas for an interim chief, but he expected Ford to remain for at least another month.

Hoppe said the city always hoped for stability in its hiring, but that the mayor's office doesn't fault Ford for leaving.

"Niles had an opportunity to be much nearer to his family and he took it," Hoppe said.

Dave Engler, head of Lincoln's firefighters union, agreed.

"I don't think most of the guys focus … on whether he's applying for jobs or what he's up to," Engler said. "This isn't the first job he's looked at. It's not really a surprise.

"Clearly, he's gonna engage in things that are best for his career and his family."

The department has faced a few controversies during Ford's tenure.

In 2008, two paramedics were arrested and lost their jobs -- one for stealing morphine from an ambulance, the other for taking hydrocodone from an 82-year-old woman. The city now randomly drug tests firefighters.

Also in 2008, five Lincoln firefighters sued Ford and the department after he promoted Jeanne Pashalek from captain to battalion chief. The five, all men, said they were given unequal treatment based on gender. The lawsuit was dismissed.

Engler said Ford's accomplishments include helping to make the ambulance service fiscally stable, securing grants for a new ladder truck and more staff hours, and using mapping software to study response times and coverage.

"I think that he's well-liked," Engler said. "He certainly is very fair, and I think he's done a lot to improve the department in some things that were either problems or perceived problems.

"He's been a good guy. … The department's better because of what's he's done."

Reach Zach Pluhacek at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.

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