Mayor Domenic Sarno has asked the City Council to lower the necessary requirements for the city’s fire commissioner. Sarno wants to name Joseph Conant, who’s been the acting commissioner since Gary Cassanelli retired earlier this year, but Conant lacks the credentials now required for the job—for instance, he has an associate’s degree, while the city ordinance calls for a master’s degree.
Sarno’s request has met with some criticism, including from another candidate for the job, Deputy Fire Chief Jerrold Prendergast, who told the Republican’s Pete Goonan that for the sake of public safety, and in light of the size of the SFD, “we should be raising the standards, not lowering them.”
(Prendergast, meanwhile, faces other problems; on Monday, the state Civil Service Commission released a finding that he had improperly disqualified several applicants who were competing for an SFD position with his son, who was ultimately hired.)
Also critical of Sarno’s move: the Springfield NAACP, whose president, the Rev. Talbert Swan II, recently sent a letter to the mayor saying that “watering down the requirements for the sake of a single preferred candidate” sends the “wrong message.”
“Will people view this policy as a reason to focus less on academic achievement and qualifications and more on posturing for political favors when seeking city employment? Will the rules be changed to accommodate candidates of color competing for high-level positions within the city, which they do not meet the qualifications for?” Swan wrote.
“At a time when our city needs all of its youth excelling academically to reclaim our position as a leading city in New England, we cannot afford to continue policies which smack of political favoritism and give the perception of blatant cronyism.”
Swan added; “In our research, we found that the qualifications noted by similar sized cities for the leaders of their fire departments were bachelor’s degrees with appropriate majors and years of experience at the administrative level. To reduce the qualifications of the head of Springfield’s fire department to an associate’s degree and two years of experience at the deputy chief level is a disservice to our city.”