Former fire chief: I was ‘misled’ about job’s duties

Published 5:41 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Craig Tully, who had been Bainbridge’s fire chief for less than a month before resigning last week, said Monday he was misled about the job’s requirements.

Tully, who was formerly chief of the Colquitt/Miller County Fire/EMS department before coming to Bainbridge Public Safety, resigned Sept. 30. He started the job on Sept. 6.

Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby hired Tully in August and said, at the time, that he was looking forward to seeing how Tully would use his experience as a volunteer firefighter to improve how Public Safety officers train to fight fires.

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However, over the last few weeks, Tully said he had came to the conclusion that his understanding of the job did not match up with his new bosses’ expectations.

Hobby said Tuesday he was “certain” that Tully genuinely believes he was misled; however, the city manager said neither he or current BPS Director Larry Funderburke intended to mislead Tully while he was interviewing for the job.

“I am led to the conclusion that this is a sad misunderstanding in which there are no winners, only losers, and that there are no bad people in the equation,” Hobby said. “I still respect Chief Tully and know that he could have contributed a great deal to our organization. The decision to leave was his alone; I believe that he could have stayed and prospered as a key member of the city’s management team.”

Also on Sept. 6, Hobby announced the hiring of Eric Miller, the former public safety director in Albion, Mich., as the new director of Bainbridge Public Safety. Miller’s hire was the result of a nationwide search that had been conducted since April, after Funderburke announced he plans to retire in December.

Tully and Miller had both begun 10-week police academy in Tifton, Ga., this past week — they had been there three days when Tully made his decision to quit on Thursday.

Tully said he had met with Miller in Bainbridge prior to going to police academy, where their discussion of Miller’s plans for BPS continued. Tully had become concerned about two things he had agreed upon, when he accepted the job of fire chief: first, that he would have “full control” of the firefighting aspects of BPS; and second, that he would attend police academy but not be expected to “do police work.”

According to Tully, Miller told him that as director of Public Safety — whose officers are dual-trained in firefighting and law enforcement — Miller would ultimately have the final say on both the firefighting and police aspects of BPS. Tully said he had already begun doing firefighting training at BPS and was concerned that he and Miller would not see eye-to-eye when Miller took over as BPS director in January.

Hobby said he and Funderburke did tell Tully he would have “control” over the fire department but the city manager said he believed the misunderstanding stems over the meaning of “control.”

“The job description [for fire chief] gives the position considerable control and responsibility, but all under the direction and supervision of the public safety director,” Hobby said. “The job description has not changed and Director Miller will be designating someone to carry out these duties.”

Tully’s other concern dealt with the fact he would have to attend police academy, in order to become dual-certified like other BPS officers, after being hired.

“I told them I had 30 years of experience as a fire chief and didn’t know how [to do police work,]” Tully said. “[Hobby and Funderburke] assured me that going to police academy would serve as a morale-booster for the other officers and would help me learn more supervisory skills.”

The city’s official description of the fire chief position states in part that the fire chief, “performs the duties of Public Safety Director in his absence.” He also “directs, coordinates and supervises the work of assigned personnel; conducts employee performance evaluations; counsels and disciplines subordinate personnel.”

Tully said he was concerned that Miller intended to have him perform police work beyond an initial, month-long ride-along with a BPS captain to observe officers’ day-to-day work while they were not fighting fires.

“[Miller] told me that I would not have to do police work every day, but at times I might have to get out on the road, go to court and make arrests,” Tully said. “I told him I didn’t know how to do that.”

Hobby said he believed Miller only intended to have Tully familiarize himself with BPS’s police operations, so that Tully could serve as deputy BPS director in the event Miller was absent, or in an emergency situation in which all personnel were needed to act in the role of policemen.

Hobby said that Funderburke had told Tully that while he had a certain way of running the department, his tenure was about up and that Miller might have another style of managing both the police and fire aspects of BPS.

“In hind sight, I would have delayed the hiring of the fire chief until the new BPS director was in place,” Hobby said. “This was a decision that I made; it now seems clear that this was the wrong decision and I take responsibility for that.”

Tully said the disagreement came to a head last Wednesday night, as he talked with Miller in their dorm at the police academy.

“[Miller’s] telling me that he’s going to be the fire chief, not me, and that I will have to also do police work, which I don’t know how to do,” Tully said.

Tully acknowledged that Miller, Funderburke and Hobby all tried to get him to change his mind, but in the end he felt he could not continue in the job.

“After doing some soul-searching and a lot of praying, I decided I was not willing to walk around with a title that means absolutely nothing,” he said. “All I’ve got is my integrity and principles.”

Hobby said he and Miller are working toward creating a more unified BPS that is equally focused on the jobs of law enforcement and fire protection.