CRESTVIEW — The North Okaloosa Fire Department board of commissioners on Thursday again tabled a decision to remove Fire Chief Ed Cutler. The decision came after the board discussed making changes to the department’s disciplinary policy.
“We did have a disciplinary policy in place, but it did not address anyone other than staff that was under the chief,” board Chairperson Franklin Sauls said.
Sauls — who presented commissioners with a “tweaked” version of the policy — said his revision would give the board administrative authority. Under Saul’s revision, the chairperson would decide disciplinary action for a fire chief. The board treasurer would handle disciplinary action for those under the treasurer in the administrative level.
“(Discipline) of any other personnel would be handled by the chief,” Sauls said.
Commissioners Dan Bowers Jr., Craig Shaw and Sam Anderson discussed making other revisions to the policy. Commissioner Bill Terrell suggested contacting the attorney general's office for their input.
“I’m going to suggest that we refer this draft from the chairman to the lawyer (Jonathan Holloway) and have him come back with a draft next month that encompasses all of the concerns,” Anderson said.
Bowers, Shaw and Anderson discussed the policy thoroughly; however, after much discussion, the board tabled the matter until the next meeting. In addition, commissioners voted unanimously to table the chief’s removal until the disciplinary policy was finalized.
During the Sept. 20 meeting, several commissioners and Cutler agreed that communication between them needed to improve.
Gene Wright, a former commissioner, suggested seeking outside advice.
“In the history of North Okaloosa, we try to recreate the wheel all by ourselves,” Wright said. He suggested asking other fire stations how they handle disciplinary actions.
Commissioners decided to move next month’s meeting to Nov. 13, when Holloway will submit a revised version of the disciplinary policy to the board for approval. Holloway also said he plans to contact the attorney general input.
Next meeting’s agenda will include welcoming new commissioners. Sauls’ and Anderson's terms are up after next month's meeting, according to the NOFD website, nofdfire.com. Anderson will retire; Paul Skarzynski and Rollin E. Rathbun III are running for his post on the Nov. 6 election ballot. Sauls will run against Todd L. McGirr.
Discussion of removing Cutler as fire chief followed talk of a firefighter’s gun accidentally being discharged in the firehouse last year with nobody reporting the incident. Cutler’s supporters defended his record during last month’s meeting.
After the meeting adjourned, Cutler said he had no comment toward the meeting's outcome.