Fire Board Chooses Jason Sperle as Next Saline Fire Chief

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Pittsfield Township Fire Marshal Jason Sperle is pictured interviewing for the Fire Chief's job with the Saline Area Fire Board at a special meeting Tuesday at Saline City Hall.

The Saline Area Fire Board has chosen Jason Sperle to be Saline's next Fire Chief.

The board voted 7-1 to approve a motion to approve a conditional offer of employment to Sperle, Fire Marshal with the Pittsfield Township Department, during a special meeting Thursday evening at Salne City Hall.

Tuesday, the board interviewed Sperle along with four other candidates, Brandon Sears, Lieutenant of the Saline Area Fire Department; Kevin Cornell, Lieutenant of the Saline Area Fire Department; Dan Cain, retired Captain of the Ypsilanti Fire Department; and Andrew Stager, Captain of the Wayne Fire Department.

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At Thursday's meeting, Saline Mayor Brian Marl, Chair of the Fire Board, asked each member to list and speak in favor of their favorite two candidates. Eight of the nine board members were present (Saline Township Trustee Robert Marion was absent for health reasons). Seven of the eight in attendance listed Sperle as one of their top two candidates. Only Saline City Councillor Janet Dillon did not choose Sperle among her favorite candidates - she favored Stager and did not name a second candidate. Dillon was eventually the lone board member to vote against the motion to offer the job to Sperle. Marl, Lodi Supervisor Jan Godek, Lodi Trustee Bill Lindemann, Saline Township Supervisor Jim Marion, York Supervisor Chuck Tellas, York Trustee Gleason and at-large member Tom Solowczuk voted in favor of the motion.

Sperle did not attend the meeting.

Despite the 7-1 vote in favor of hiring Sperle, there weren't many comments from board members explaining their support. The most supportive comments came from York Supervisor Tellas. He cited Sperle's commitment to continuing his education (a master's degree from Eastern Michigan University), his experience as a fire inspector and code official. Tellas was also impressed with Sperle's coaching experience and involvement in charity events in Washtenaw County. Tellas, however, was most supportive of Cain for the post.

Retiring Chief Craig Hoeft said he was happy the process was complete and looked forward to help the new chief adapt to the role.

Still, Mayor Marl cautioned the board and the public that the hiring process is not yet complete.

"We're at the goal line and I'm 99 percent confident that everyone will work out," Marl said. "But his employment is subject to a contract negotiation as well as a physical exam, drug screening, psychological evaluation and comprehensive background check."

Marl said that could take two weeks to a month. Marl said the fire board will need to meet again to debate and consider and approve the contract.

"Hopefully we can approve the contract so he can job shadow Chief Hoeft before his retirement June 30," Marl said.

During the meeting each board member was asked to list their top two candidates. Tellas chose Cain and Sperle. Solowczuk chose Sperle and Stager. Dillon chose Stager. Gleason chose Sperle and Stager. Lindeman chose Sperle and Stager. Jim Marion chose Sears and Sperle and said Robert Marion, not in attendance, felt the same way. Godek chose Cain and Sperle. Marl also chose Cain and Sperle.

The Saline Area Fire Board's hiring committee previously interviewed the same five candidates and then recommended Sperle and Sears as the two finalists. Sperle and Sears interviewed with the full fire board. Days later, instead of offering a conditional job offer to one of the finalists, the board instead voted to change the process and interview the five finalists. Those interviews took place Tuesday afternoon.

York Trustee Gleason criticized the process.

"It was an abomination. It started out really well. We made our top two choices and we came here and it was turned on our heads. We ended up re-interviewing the five candidates, which was a waste of our time and a waste of their time," Gleason said. "We didn't follow what we set out to do."

Marl defended the changes in the process.

"I know this process has had its challenges but I am eternally grateful the board decided to conduct an additional interview with the five finalists. I think we owe it to ourselves and the community to be thoughtful and thorough. This is a key position in our community we are attempting to fill and we need to get it right,"Marl said.

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