Council discusses hiring fire chief leader during retreat

Published 10:56 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The LaGrange City Council discussed hiring a fire chief Tuesday during a council retreat.

The hiring decision would make it possible for current Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar to return his full focus to the LaGrange Police Department after 10 years over both the LPD and the LaGrange Fire Department.

“We are growing as a city, and the employees are increasing. I think we need to make some changes,” City Manager Meg Kelsey said. “The first is the fire department. Chief Dekmar and I have had a good discussion about this. We have now put in the policies and framework for the fire department to operate successfully. I have all the confidence in the world that they can. We are close to accreditation, and we think that will happen in August of this year, when that will be completed. So, if we do hire a fire chief, we would start the process in July, and hopefully by the time that August rolls around that process would be done.”

Dekmar is currently over the LaGrange Police Department, which has 126 employees, and LaGrange Fire Department, which is allowed 66 employees. Seven of the fire department employees have not been hired yet because the positions were approved for the new fire station, which has not yet been built. Dekmar agreed that it was a good time to look for a fire chief.

“When I took it over, we had a fire chief and [he was] running it, and [I was running] the police department, and I think it will be a good opportunity and a good time to separate those back out,” Dekmar said.

The city council has expressed its gratitude to Dekmar for his public safety work on numerous occasions, but the council agreed with Kelsey that the city should hire for a fire chief.

“Even if it takes a little longer to find the right person, I think it is critical that we do find the right person there and make sure that is a good hire,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “… I don’t think anybody could have done a better job of managing the public safety department over the last 10 years than Lou Dekmar has as managing police and fire. He didn’t ask to take on the fire department. The council asked him to take on the fire department because of some issues that were in place in the fire department, and so he has taken it over. He has gotten good policies in place, good people in place, and they are about to get accredited, which I think is a great testimony to his leadership, but as Meg [Kelsey] said, there is no question that over the last few years we have really increased both of those roles, adding dozens of new police officers a couple of years ago, adding seven new fire fighters, adding a new fire station, etc. I think it is appropriate that we go back to the historic model of having a police department and a fire department, but I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Dekmar.”

Other proposed structure changes to city departments included combining community services with court services, aligning the city garage under public services, eliminating the position of superintendent of garage, reestablishing the human resources manager position, reestablishing the clerk position under international operations and realigning planning and zoning with strategic initiatives. Kelsey said that under the restructuring the city may have two less positions but code officer positions are expected to be added around the same time, resulting in roughly the same number of employees.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on April 10 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.