CANNON BEACH — The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District has selected five top candidates for the fire chief position out of 20 applications received, interim Fire Chief Jim Stearns announced at the Monday board meeting.

The five candidates will come to Cannon Beach on April 23 for interviews, and will be narrowed down to three finalists. Community members are welcome to meet with the final three candidates, expected from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Cannon Beach fire station.

Stearns said he hopes the board will reach a hiring decision by May so that the chief can begin working in June.

The district seeks an experienced fire chief who will be “an active, involved part of the community, work effectively with the five-member board of directors, demonstrate strong fiscal accountability and provide fair, honest, effective leadership to the paid staff and 26 volunteers,” the job description states.

Salary for the chief’s job is $67,500 to $75,000, depending on qualifications.

Stearns suggested that the board help to create and implement a strategic plan.

“I think it’s really important to have a strategic plan that we all buy into,” he said. “As we look at hiring people, it’s nice for them to be able to walk into the organization and say, organizationally, this is what the values are, this is where we’re going.”

The board is seeking to replace former Fire Chief Mike Balzer, who was fired in October. Balzer has since filed a lawsuit against the fire district claiming wrongful dismissal.

Community member Mary Peterson commented that with the lawsuit pending, hiring a new chief was a mistake.

The lawsuit could bring his reinstatement.

It would be “fiscally irresponsible for this board to gamble with citizens’ money to have to buy out a new chief’s contract, if in fact Mike Balzer is successful in his lawsuit,” she said. “It would be fine if you were gambling with your own money, but you’re not.”

Three fire board members turned back a recall election last week. The recall effort stemmed from frustration among some residents over the board’s handling of Balzer’s firing.

“I would like to compliment the entire board for the grace and professionalism with which you have handled yourselves over the last several months and to congratulate the three of you who stood for recall and were successful in defeating it,” community member Marty Schwab Harris said of board members Sharon Clyde, Garry Smith and Linda Beck-Sweeney. “If the issue of fiduciary responsibility is to be brought up at this time, I would like to suggest that perhaps those who initiated the recall would like to reimburse the fire district for the cost of the recall, which will fall to the district’s budget and therefore consume funds that could otherwise be used for training, fire equipment and other much-needed goods and services.”

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