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City tells fire chief to change ways in 45 days

Thursday, March 20, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Austin Fire Chief J.J. Adame will have 45 days to improve his performance as the department’s leader, after city management and Adame agree on an improvement plan—perhaps as early as Friday.


While many of the details leading up to that conclusion are being withheld, the Assistant City Manager over Public Safety did meet briefly with reporters on Wednesday to address the Chief’s status.


Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras read a statement to members of the media gathered at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, emphasizing the Chief’s technical experience. He said the performance improvement plan is part of an attempt to “strengthen Adame’s leadership position within the department. We’ll be working very, very closely with Chief Adame to develop a plan that we both agree on.”


Lumbreras said the chief’s improvement plan has not been fully developed, but he expects it to be done soon, perhaps by the end of the week. After that, the 45-day time period for Adame to show sufficient progress will begin. “We want Chief Adame to succeed and we are committed to that end.”


Lumbreras declined to say how Adame’s performance had changed since his last evaluation because it is a personnel matter. However, in a memo to Chief Adame, assistant City Manager Michael McDonald wrote, “there have been many instances where I think you have deferred to your subordinates in situations where you needed to take a lead role as chief.” That memo calls for Adame to demonstrate “leadership, which should entail less dependence and deferral to your Chief of Staff.” That is Assistant Chief Jim Evans, who has been with the department since 1977 and served as interim chief before Adame was hired two years ago from Corpus Christi.


Adame is already taking steps to address the issues outlined in that memo. “This is something I’ve had in the works for a couple of months now. This just formalizes it,” he said. “I’m ready to make the corrections I need to make and move the department forward. We’re going to do some reorganization to change the way we do things, change some of the reporting. During my travels, I make sure that people understand that I am the Chief of the organization, I make the final decisions.”


Along with improving his leadership skills, the memo also called on Adame to rectify problems with the department’s payroll system (See In Fact Daily, March 17, 2008). “The issue existed when I got here, and I can understand the concern the frustration of fire fighters. You need to be able to look at your pay stub and understand what it means,” he said. “We’ve completed an audit. We have some action steps we have already begun to implement. It’s going to involve a lot of other departments in the city.”


The payroll problem has caused discontent among firefighters and their union, the Austin Firefighters Association. One of the department’s top staffers, Assistant Fire Chief Flo Solis, retired last week after 28 years of service. Assistant City Manager Mike McDonald said Solis’ retirement was not related to any dissatisfaction with Adame.

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