CFD promotion complaint turned away

An investigation into a complaint filed by a Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services captain about the fairness and discrimination in the promotion process has been found to have no merit.

The city's Human Resources Department made the finding after Capt. Mary Simonton filed fair-treatment report last month. Simonton, a 30-year employee with the department, applied for a deputy chief's position that went to former Fire Marshal Greg Lang.

"You did not provide nor were we able to find any evidence of discrimination in the appointment of the new Deputy Chief," Human Resources Director Tom Baron concluded in his report dated Jan. 16 and obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act.

One of Simonton's major concerns was the ''the interview process was unprofessional, inappropriate and insensitive.'' Simonton, one of five candidates for the job, was interviewed by Chief Jeff Meyer and Assistant Chief Jerry Fountain after a leadership class at the department's training center. The interview was conducted outside while Fountain and Meyer smoked cigarettes and the smoke blew in her face, Simonton wrote in her complaint.

"We do have concerns about the manner in which the selection process was conducted and have provided those concerns to the Public Safety Director, Mayor (Jim) Wetherington," Baron wrote.

Simonton had no comment Tuesday on the city's findings. She has the right to appeal the decision to City Manager Isaiah Hugley.

Meyer said he was currently reevaluating the interview process.

"We are looking at doing it in a way where we can glean as much information as possible from the candidates," Meyer said.

Among the conclusion in the city's investigation:

-- Lang, as did Simonton, met the minimum requirements for the appointment having been promoted to Captain in 1996 and subsequently appointed Division Chief/Fire Marshal in 2004.

-- The deputy chief appointment was at the discretion of the Chief.-- Meyer believes he selected the applicant with the best leadership skills and the best ability to increase the effectiveness of the department. The Chief also noted that the successful candidate has demonstrated his leadership while effectively managing the Fire Prevention Division and in his new position remains responsible for the overall management of the Fire Prevention Division along with new responsibilities for the Training Division.

The Columbus Firefighters Association, which has about 250 members from 380-person department, held two meetings with Meyer last week to address concerns within the department. The association membership voted that concerns about the promotion process were a "dead issue."

Association President Bobby Dutton, a battalion chief, said some in the membership wanted to make sure the promotion process "was fair and done with dignity."

"We agree that the chief has the discretionary authority to make such decisions," Dutton said. "When people apply, we ask that he treat them all fairly."