Sonora fire chief hiring discussed

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

Sonora leaders are concerned that the city's next fire chief will not be required to live in or immediately near the city limits. But there's not much they can do about it.

The Sonora City Council on Monday approved changes to the official job description for the chief, which included removing the residency clause that required the chief to live within 15 minutes of normal driving time to the city fire department. The job description will be used to recruit a new, permanent chief to replace Mike Barrows who retired earlier this year.

The residency change was one of many additions and changes to the job requirements, most of which included updated certifications and training. City Administrator Tim MIller and attorney Byron Smith said the state had passed a law banning residency requirements for city employees since the chief job description was last updated in 1996.

"We'll evaluate candidates and determine the appropriateness through the interview process," Miller said of the residency situation.

While there is some leeway that could limit the distance, Miller and Smith both said they likely wouldn't legally be able to require the next chief live closer than an hour drive time. Previous court cases have shown 60 minutes to be a reasonable limit for positions where response time is a factor in performance.

The prospect concerned multiple members of the City Council, including Jim Garaventa and Ron Stearn, as the next chief could live as far away as Modesto, Oakdale and Merced.

"To have our public safety people here closer for a call back is always a good thing," Garaventa said.

For the complete story, see the Aug. 19 edition of The Union Democrat.

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