Facing turnover at the Davenport Fire Department's top leadership positions, the Civil Service Commission has approved lowering the minimum qualifications at the request of City Administrator Corri Spiegel.

Interim Chief Jim Bickford and Fire Marshal Mike Hayman are set to retire in 2019 and to create a larger internal candidate pool, Spiegel had requested waiving the education requirement and succession rank provision from the qualifications for both its assistant chief positions.

The commission approved lowering the requirements by a 3-2 vote, but not without some discussion of whether doing so followed best practices within the industry and was consistent with other cities.

In place of the formal education requirement, Spiegel requested that it be replaced with five years as a fire officer. A fire officer is defined as the rank of lieutenant or above.

The waiver of successive rank provision allows fire officers with five years of experience to apply for the assistant chief positions.

In a Sept. 12 memorandum to the Commission, Spiegel wrote that "by waiving this provision, it will allow for a competitive and optimized hiring process and succession strategy for the aforementioned positions."

After ex officio commissioner Latrice Lacey questioned the rationale of the request, Spiegel explained to the commission that the internal candidate pool would be too small if the current qualifications had been left as is.

Lacey said the commission raised the requirements for the evidence technician last month, placing more requirements on it than the fire marshal position.

Spiegel and Human Resources Director Dawn Sherman said positions were different in that the assistant chief's positions were always hired internally based upon provisions in Civil Service Commission Rule 2.2 and Iowa Code.

Iowa Code 400.9 states "vacancies in civil service promotional grades shall be filled by lateral transfer, voluntary demotion, or promotion of employees of the city."

When asked about best practices within the state, employment manager Stacy Ihrig said that the education requirement is different among cities.

"When you look at the top 10, there is some flexibility in Iowa," Ihrig said.

Research shows that Iowa City, Waterloo, Sioux City, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines have education requirements. The Cedar Rapids assistant chief position does not list education, but those promoted have been from positions with education requirements.

The International Fire Chiefs Association model for best practices also places an emphasis on education.

Besides lowering the requirements, Spiegel has de-emphasized the importance of qualifications in assessing candidates.

For both the fire marshal and assistant chief of operations positions, the qualifications panel only represents five percent of the overall application grade.

Greater emphasis for fire marshal candidates instead will be placed on an in-basket assessment, which amounts to testing, and interviews with both a professional and senior management panel.

For assistant chief of operations, greater emphasis is placed on executive team, senior management and professional panels in addition to the in-basket assessment.

This isn't the first time education requirements have been relaxed to hire the fire department's highest positions.

In 2000, the Davenport City Council approved the appointment of Mark Frese as its fire chief with the caveat that he complete his bachelor's degree within 12 months.

While the commission approved the minimum requirements, Commissioner Paul Bollinger requested a discussion about restricting hiring for assistant chiefs positions to internal candidates as the fire chief is open to internal and external candidates.

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