LARGO — It’s back to the beginning in the search for a fire chief after City Manager Henry Schubert announced Tuesday that he decided not to make a selection from three finalists.
In a memo to city staff, Schubert wrote that the candidates were qualified for the job, but "the interview process did not result in a clear choice for the position."
"After conducting additional research on the candidates and giving the decision much thought," he wrote, "I have decided not to make a selection."
Schubert, department management and several rank-and-file employees interviewed the candidates, narrowed to three from an applicant pool of about 60, last week. They were Michael Cassano, 55, the deputy chief of operations for Pasco County Fire Rescue; Jason Dougherty, 42, the deputy chief of operations for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue; and Joseph Pennino, 36, Largo’s interim fire chief.
In an interview, Schubert said there was a sentiment among employees to bring in someone from the outside. But the two external candidates didn’t fit the mold he was looking for, he said, avoiding specifics.
Kyle Lighthiser, who represents Largo in the Pinellas County Professional Firefighters union, said the group didn’t endorse a candidate in the process. He echoed Schubert’s sentiment that there wasn’t a clear choice after interviews.
"We’re dedicated to getting the right fit for the city and the fire department," he said.
The department is undergoing an evaluation by organizational psychologists to more clearly understand morale issues among employees, using the same firm that assessed Clearwater Fire & Rescue two years ago.
The recruitment process will start again this month. The city will continue to use a consultant, The Mercer Group, at no additional cost, Schubert said.
"Hiring department directors, in particular a police chief or a fire chief, is one of the most important decisions I make," he said, "so I want to make sure I get it right."
Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.