AUBURN — A shake-up in the Auburn fire department has led its deputy chief, Mike Minkowsky, to seek legal advice.
The reason is murky.
“I am consulting a lawyer,” the deputy chief said Monday. “A statement will be forthcoming.”
Since Minkowsky's decision in late April to oppose a concept that would eliminate the city's police and fire chiefs — and create a single department of public safety chief — new Interim Fire Chief Geoff Low was been appointed. And Minkowsky, still in his position as deputy chief, has been on sick leave.
City Manager Glenn Aho said Monday that he hopes Minkowsky will change jobs.
“We're looking for him to be a fire inspector,” he said.
The plan would be to train the longtime firefighter to examine new and renovated buildings for their adherence to fire safety codes, something that is now typically done by the State Fire Marshal's Office, Aho said.
It's uncertain whether he would keep the title of deputy chief.
“There's a process we're engaged in,” Aho said, focusing again on the city's concept of a consolidated public safety department that would be led from the city's administrative headquarters in Auburn Hall.
The upcoming city budget includes $10,000 to fund a task force's examination of the police and fire departments and how they might be restructured to work more closely together.
“No decision have been made,” Aho said. “Nothing has happened.”
Aho worries that people may be assuming that the process is further along than it really is, he said.
Some people have jumped to conclusions, he said.
In late April, when Aho unveiled his concept, Minkowsky was a critic.
"It's disrespectful to me and to my organization," Minkowsky said at the April 26th meeting. "To have this put to a vote without my input — no more than a cursory walk-through in Auburn Hall's offices — makes me extremely disappointed."
Aho said any changes would follow more immediate needs.
“I want to advertise for this position first,” Aho said, tapping an ad describing the job to be left vacant by Laurie Smith, the assistant city manager. She gave her notice on Monday. She has been hired as the town manager in Wiscasset.
“You can point to any department in the city and see change,” Aho said. Among them is a plan to share office staff in Auburn Hall and the recent announcement that longtime City Clerk Mary Lou Magno is retiring.
Several other longtime city leaders, including Assistant Public Works Director Sid Hazelton and Recreation Director Peter Bushway, have also left in recent weeks.
“We do feel confident that no matter what, we'll need a fire chief,” Aho said.