Orange outlines fire chief hiring process

Published 12:18 am Thursday, May 12, 2022

ORANGE — The City of Orange is closing in on naming a new fire department chief.

City Manager Mike Kunst is leading the selection process following the retirement of longtime leader David Frenzel, who served the city for 53 years.

According to Kunst, the city charter calls for him to bring a nominee to the city council, which then either approves or rejects the recommendation.

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“I accepted applications for about a month and did post this internally and externally,” Kunst said. “I opened it up. We want the best fire chief for the City of Orange.”

More than 30 applications were accepted throughout the process.

Kunst said he formed an evaluation and interview committee that includes Jay Trahan, Regis Guillory and Pat Avery.

“We met, and I advised them, just like I advised Council, that this is still going to be my nomination,” Kunst told Orange Newsmedia. “I want to hear their opinions and what they are seeing, but ultimately, it is going to be my nominee.”

According to Kunst, the group independently reached a consensus on four finalists who move onto in-person interviews next week.

The group includes John Bilbo, Terence Simon, Robert Smith Jr. and Todd Weidman.

Background checks are continuing on all of the candidates.

Kunst said if the candidates come up short during the interview process or the top choice drops out of consideration, the city will start over by casting a wider net.

It will probably be June, at the earliest, before a finalist is brought to the city council.

“For transparency, it will be listed on the agenda when the time comes who that person is,” Kunst said. “Everybody will be able to see who my nominee is.”

District 1 Councilman David Bailey expressed concern with the process, noting it has not gone appropriately.

The council has not been given a chance to advise or consent on anything, he said.

He questions why anyone who does not live in Orange is serving on the interview board.

“That is wrong, plain and simple,” Bailey said, adding a city councilmember should have also been placed on the interview committee.

Kunst said the city charter does not allow that, adding the city attorney has advised council members of the stipulation.

Bailey said Bilbo should be the leading candidate because he has spent 20 years of his career with Orange Fire Department.

“We have paid for his education to get his degree,” Bailey said. “We pay for the (continuing) education of certain employees to get a return on our investment. Otherwise, why are we paying for these people to get their degree? If we are not going to utilize the people that we educate, then, as far as I am concerned, we are wasting money.

“There is one candidate that is head and shoulders above. If he is not the one (the city manager) brings forward, then I have a problem with that.”