County commissioners Tuesday heard from seven candidates vying for Wilson Emergency Management Agency’s top spot as the latest stage of the county’s hiring process for the position.
The candidate will replace exiting Director John Jewell.
Jewell, who has served in the agency’s top spot for more than five and a half years, submitted his resignation Aug. 2, following a disciplinary committee review of his involvement in a wreck in June.
Although his final day in the position was supposed to be Sept. 2, he agreed to continue in the position until his replacement was found.
“We tried to do the best we can with this process [because] we know this is a large part of our county,” saidWilson County Mayor Randall Hutto.
The presentations, 10 minutes for each candidate plus 5 minutes each to answer any questions, rounded out a day full of activities that included meetings with current WEMA employees and administrators.
After those meetings, county officials asked WEMA employees and administrators to each cast an anonymous vote for his or her preferred candidate.
According to Hutto, a group of emergency management experts culled through all the applicants to select these top candidates.
“That group [of experts] was not from around here to give those from around here a fair shake as well as to give those who are not from around here a fair shake,” said Hutto.
Several of the contenders are already hail from Wilson County, and two of the contenders hail from East Tennessee.
The following is a rundown of the top seven candidates as of Wednesday:
Winford Lee “Boo” Bowling, Jr.
Winford Lee “Boo” Bowling, Jr., has served as a WEMA battalion chief since July 2004.
“As far as my emergency management agency experience, I spent 20-something years on the job training,” Bowling told commissioners.
Before this position, he’s held several positions in the agency, including seven months as captain, three years as lieutenant, five-and-a-half years as an EMT-IV/firefighter and eight months as a dispatcher.
He’s also served as a paramedic for Trousdale County EMS since 2008.
Bowling said his first order of business, if selected, would be to address morale among department employees.
“Morale is probably at its all-time low,” said Bowling.
He said part of the problem stems from existing hiring practices within the agency
“We have an issue with hiring spouses,” said Bowling.
He said he would also allow employees to eat out while on shift, saying it would make it easier on employees while allowing them to interact with the public more.
Bowling told commissioners he’d also like to try to create a unified dispatch system in the county.
“If we had a unified dispatch, everybody would know what was going on,” said Bowling.
With the current system, emergency calls go into the 911 system and are then routed to each agency.
He also said he’d like to fully implement charging residents and businesses for responding after a certain number of times.
“I know there's been a lot of flak about double taxation, this that in the other. But we're there,” said Bowling.
In Joey Cooper’s 24 years with WEMA, he’s served as a paramedic/firefighter, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief.
“The position of director of Wilson County EMA has always been my destination,” said Cooper.
He told commissioners that, if selected, his goals for the department would include strengthening the department structure, providing discipline, harmony and attainable goals within the department.
“This is not an overnight transition, but with the right people and the right plans, these emergency management goals can be accomplished,” said Cooper.
William Glover III
William Glover, district 19 Wilson County Commissioner, has also served as Lebanon’s public safety coordinator since 1994. Before that, he worked for a year as a public safety officer, police officer, EMT and CPR instructor for the Metropolitan Nashville Public Safety Department.
Glover told commissioners his primary goals, if selected, include improving the agency’s pay structure, bidding out employees’ station assignments and tracking goals and progress.
“You have to have a way to keep track of if you’re doing a good job,” said Glover. “We need to be out there improving all the time.”
He said he would like to pay employees extra money for each team they serve on. He would also like to better organize volunteer firefighters and use their services more.
“We need full-time employees that you can count on to be here every day, but you have to do what you can at the beginning,” said Glover.
He told commissioners he would give a 30-day notice as district-19 commissioner if he’s selected as WEMA director.
Anthony “Tony” Grande
“I'm that guy that you don't recognize,” joked Anthony Grande to commissioners.
Grande has served 10 years as assistant chief of suppression for the City of Knoxville Fire Department. Before that, he served in various training capacities for the department, including as assistant chief of training and as training fire officer.
Grande said he began his career in emergency services when he was assigned to fire suppression duties upon entering the U.S. Air Force.
“I didn't choose the emergency services profession, it chose me,” said Grande. “I have a passion for emergency service.”
He said that in his years as a training instructor, he taught parts of almost every course required for the state’s emergency management certification.
In discussing what his goals for the agency would be, Grande said he would tackle the gaps in the time between when a call comes in and when a WEMA unit is dispatched.
“They’re called ‘first responders’ for a reason,” said Grande. “They’ve got to be out the door first.”
He said he’d also work to retain WEMA employees.
“You’ve got to stop losing quality people to surrounding departments,” said Grande.
Michael “Mike” Henderlight
Michael Henderlight has served as a deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deparment since January 1996. During his time at the department, he’s managed training for the entire department.
Since 2002, he has also served as general manager for Professional Medical Transport, Inc., a medical equipment and ambulance service provider covering Knoxville to Memphis and surrounding counties.
Henderlight said that his goals included raising department morale through the use of, among other things, incentive programs. He suggested that the agency could offer annual bonuses to reward years and quality of service.
“That tells [employees] that we care,” said Henderlight.
And the advantage to the county is that they would be one-time expenses annually.
“They don’t cost as much over course of the year,” he said.
He would also implement employee appreciation programs.
“You can't keep people happy all the time, but I'd much rather know somebody's come into work happy than have them already mad before they even get there,” said Henderlight.
Alan Kaiser, a 19-year WEMA employee, currently serves as a captain with the agency. During his time at WEMA, he’s also served as an EMT-IV/firefighter and a lieutenant.
“If appointed director, I will continue to watch population growth throughout the county,” said Kaiser. “I will work closely with the mayor and county commission and strive to make sure the citizens have adequate emergency service coverage,” said Kaiser.
He said that the relationships he’s built during his time in Wilson County would help the agency.
“I already have a good working relationship with the other three fire departments,” said Kaiser. “I know that when an emergency occurs that needs more aid than Wilson EMA can supply alone, I can work with any of these departments and their leaders in any situation.”
He said he’d like to bring back the Explorer program to help build relationships within the community.
Additionally, he wants to improve morale among the agency’s employees.
“I'd like to make the department a place you want to be, not a place you have to be,” said Kaiser.
He said the agency may need to look at alternatives to do so besides pay raises.
“Everybody talks about money. We may have to give them training that knocks their socks off. We may have to get creative,” said Kaiser. “We don't want to forget about money, but there's other ways.”
Stephen “Steve” Spencer
Steve Spencer has served as WEMA’s EMA planning officer since January 2011. He has also served as a volunteer firefighter and training officer for the Rock City/Rome Fire Department in Smith County.
Before joining WEMA, Spencer was the director of transportation for Wilson County Schools for nearly 10 years.
Spencer said he wants to make WEMA an agency where an employee can build a career and feel at home.
“I envision WEMA being a recognized leader in the emergency services we offer,” said Spencer. “I want to work toward a WEMA that is accredited as an all-hazard program.”
He said he wants to also build community outreach efforts, including implementing an annual community preparedness day.
“I want you to see WEMA as a leader in Wilson County and as an organization that conducts ourselves as professsionals both on-duty and off-duty,” Spencer told commissioners.
He also hopes to establish an annual employee appraisal program and an employee recognition program that recognizes years of service, service that goes above and beyond and training benchmarks.
He said he would run the agency with transparency and cooperation.
“There will be times when we meet and we diasagree. When those times occur, I will be seeking common ground,” said Spencer. “I will start working on building trust and a foundation of trust with you.”