NORTHFIELD — The Tilton-Northfield Fire Commission last night appointed Deputy Chief Michael Robinson Acting Chief and Captain Tim Joubert Acting Deputy Chief as of October 18, when Chief Brad Ober leaves the department to become deputy chief in Gilford.
The commissioners reached their decision at a special meeting convened to consider how to address the interim between the departure of Ober and the hiring of his successor. Captain Dave Hall told the commission that all members of the department discussed the situation and agreed that "every option in-house should be exhausted in the interim."
"I want Brad (Ober) back, but we can't have that," said Robinson, who added that every member of the department had urged the chief to stay. "Will I do it?" he continued. "Yes, on my terms and with inside help. It's got to be a team effort," he stressed, explaining that his full-time job occupied him from 5:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays and he owed time to "the new woman in my life," his granddaughter.
He also expected the commission would "move rapidly with a replacement.
Paul Auger of Northfield, who chairs the commission, said "we have other options," referring specifically to retired chiefs. "I'm not saying we go that way, but it's an option. You've (Robinson) made us an offer and it's a good offer."
The commission held a non-public meeting to discuss personnel issues and emerged after more than half an hour to announce the appointments of Robinson and Joubert. Hall told the commissioners that he appreciated their decision as well as the timeliness in which they made it. "There will be zero ripples in this water," he assured them. "It will be a seamless transition."
Earlier the commission accepted Ober's resignation and thanked him for his eight-and-a-half years of service with the department, after which he left the meeting.
After succeeding Steve Carrier in 2010, Ober became the second chief to leave the Titlon-Northfield Fire Department to become deputy chief in Gilford in the past three years. Both Carrier and Ober had trying relationships with the commission. Carrier found himself in the midst of a dispute between the two towns over the prospect of constructing a life-safety building to house the Tilton Police Department and elements of the Fire Department, which led the Northfield selectmen to force a vote to dissolve the fire district that was soundly rejected in 2010.
Ober's tenure was dogged by his difficulties in complying with the commission's requirement that he establish residency within the district. Unable to sell his home in New Hampton, he rented an apartment in Tilton on the eve of the deadline on January 2 to avoid the risk of dismissal. But, the issue lingered, emerging again in June when, according to minutes of a commissioner's meeting, Clark said that "people have complained the chief is coming in to work from up north on a regular basis" and he "invited them to come into talk about it." Clark said that without a formal complaint it would remain a "non-issue," but, echoed by Commissioner Les Dolecal, recommended monitoring the mileage on the chief's car.
Yesterday Pat Consentino, chair of the Tilton Board of Selectmen, reminded the commission that "under the regime of Pat Clark" the department had lost two chiefs and three firefighters as well as a commissioner, Tom Gallant, who resigned abruptly citing his differences with Clark.
"How much money, taxpayer money, are we going to spend before we realize this is a personal agenda?" Consentino asked. Again referring to the resignations, she said that "the common denominator is obvious." Hiring chiefs and firefighters, she noted, "costs a lot of money" and legal expenses in the Fire District budget, she noted, have more than tripled, from $5,000 to $16,000 since Clark joined the commission. "I'm just looking at the money," she remarked.
When Auger asked Judy Tilton, whose apartment Ober rented to establish residency in the district, she replied "you don't wanrt to hear what I have to say." Encouraged to speak, she said "you've systematically harassed Brad (Ober) to this point", then cut herself short.
"It happens all the time," Auger said of Ober's resignation, "whether it's here or there."
Clark said that the decision of the state to cease funding its share of pensions for firefighters severely strained the district's budget and conceded that the residency requirement was "a source of controversy, a big issue." Carrier's departure, he said "had nothing to do with me" while adding "is it fun to go through? No. It's lots of work."