NORWAY — The Board of Selectmen went over the pros and cons of switching the fire chief position from elected to appointed at a public hearing on Thursday evening at the Town Office.

Residents will vote on the question on Nov. 8. If the change is approved, the town manager would appoint the chief and the Board of Selectmen would confirm the appointment, beginning with the June 2018 election.

Town Manager David Holt told attendees that the Board of Selectmen has been discussing what the future will look like for the community once he and Fire Chief Dennis Yates retire.

“Dennis has met with the selectmen quite a few times to talk about how technical (the fire chief) job is compared to 40 years ago,” Holt said.

He said that the concern with electing a fire chief is that “you could elect someone like me as fire chief, and I wouldn’t know how to be one.”

“While you all love me and find me personable, and could probably get me elected, I would be in a difficult position,” Holt said. “I wouldn’t be trained to do that job.”

Holt said that if the fire chief were appointed, there would be some kind of knowledge test to make sure the chief is aware of basic laws and training methods.

After being tested, Holt said the candidate would be placed by the town manager in front of the Board of Selectmen, where they would decide on whether to confirm the appointment.

He said that he believes people who make policy should be elected, while people appointed to a position are required to carry out those policies.

Yates said that he believes that there are pros and cons to switching the fire chief position from elected to appointed, and that the decision to switch would ultimately fall to the taxpayers.

Chairman Russell Newcomb said that one of the benefits to switching the fire chief from elected to appointed was that the town “wouldn’t run the risk of electing someone based on a popularity contest.”

“We’re fairly fortunate that we’ve had great fire chiefs for as long as I can remember,” Newcomb said. “I’m not saying that won’t be the case when Dennis retires, but there’s always a chance that someone could come into town without the experience to be a chief, thinking the title would sound pretty good. They might garner a lot of votes, but it doesn’t mean that they’re qualified to fight a fire at my house or your house.”

Newcomb added that accountability was another benefit.

“When you elect a fire chief, the board has some control over them, as taxpayers, but not necessarily the control needed to know what they’re doing,” Newcomb said. “When the chief is appointed, they have to follow the job description provided by the town. The board has a direct say over the person.”

Holt said that if residents voted to change the position from elected to appointed, the selectmen would review the fire chief’s job performance on an annual basis.

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