Mayor to ask VFD to vote on fire chief
Whitehouse City Council members have directed Mayor Danny Hogden to speak to the city’s volunteer fire department about an election for a new fire chief.
Council members at Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting expressed concern about former city manager Ronny Fite continuing to serve as fire chief while under investigation for assault. Fite was booked and released on June 14 at the Smith County Jail on charges stemming from an incident involving his ex-wife.
Although the city partially supports the fire department financially, it is made up of volunteers who are not considered city employees. The department has the only authority to call an election, and its bylaws do not establish any requirement for a periodic election. Fite has served as fire chief since 1993.
“I have a problem with this,” said council member Paul Licht. “I don’t feel like we have any real voice here.”
Likening the situation to a dictatorship or a lifetime appointment, Licht said he did not understand this reasoning and that he was “not a happy camper.”
Mayor Hogden said he would talk to the fire department about an election and see if there were any concerns; Hogden said he felt it would be in the best interest of the city if Fite stepped down until the situation was resolved. Fite also serves as the city’s fire marshal and he voluntarily requested a leave of absence from that position.
Although council can’t call an election or remove a fire chief, once an election is conducted the fire department’s pick is subject to council approval.
Gene Champion, a volunteer fire department member and former council member, had said earlier that the department had no plans to discipline Fite.