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Niagara Falls Chief gets the boot

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  • Niagara Falls Chief gets the boot

    NIAGARA FALLS — The city once again finds itself in need of a new fire chief.

    Roger Melchior, the man hired in November following a national search to replace former Fire Chief William MacKay, has been dismissed by the city.

    The revelation came hours after Dyster confirmed to city lawmakers that his administration had launched an investigation into the source of several questionable comments that appeared in an online forum with Melchior’s name attached to them.

    “I have been relieved of my duties as of this afternoon and other than that I have no comment,” Melchior told the Niagara Gazette when reached by telephone Monday evening.

    Dyster, who earlier in the day declined to discuss Melchior’s status with the city, confirmed the dismissal after learning that the former fire chief told the press he was no longer employed by the city. Dyster said he was waiting for confirmation of the receipt of the city’s formal notice of dismissal to Melchior before he made any statements. He said he also had hoped to discuss the matter with battalion chiefs in the fire department, which he intends to do today.

    When asked why the decision was made, Dyster declined to discuss specific reasons, saying only that the investigation into the online postings was one of several factors.

    “This was a decision that was not taken lightly,” Dyster said. “I think the comments with the situation on the blog was a trigger, but it was obviously not the only factor that went into this decision.”

    Dyster said under the terms of Melchior’s Sept. 2 appointment letter, he was advised that he served “at-will” and that his position was based on a mutual agreement between him and the city, one that either party could terminate without cause or notice. Dyster said he intended to meet with battalion chiefs to discuss plans for a search to find Melchior’s replacement. In the interim, he said provisions are in place to allow senior fire department staff to handle day-to-day operations within the department.

    “There is no interruption in fire service,” Dyster said.

    The 63-year-old Melchior arrived in the Falls from Ellenton, Fla. He was appointed to the chief’s job in October, but was prevented from immediately assuming his duties due to a family emergency. Following a swearing-in ceremony in November, he collapsed and was later hospitalized. After his release from the hospital, he wore a protective boot on his leg as a result of an injury sustained during the collapse.

    Dyster told lawmakers during the council’s afternoon agenda review session that his administration was investigating comments attributed to Melchior’s name — including one that referred to “camel jockeys” in Cairo — posted on the Baltimore Fire Officers Association’s online forum. City officials were apparently trying to determine if the comments were indeed posted by Melchior.

    Dyster did not discuss the specifics of the investigation, nor did he mention the status of the fire chief during Monday’s afternoon council session. He did provide Council Chairman Sam Fruscione with an update during a private meeting in his office following the council’s agenda review.

    After meeting with Dyster, Fruscione said he could not discuss Melchior’s status with the city, but had a hard time believing, based on the information that he received, that anyone other than Melchior was responsible for the questionable postings. Fruscione noted that several of the comments on the forum referred to specific events in Niagara Falls, including meetings and issues with other city officials and Melchior’s attendance and seating arrangement at the mayor’s recent state of the city address. Fruscione noted that the online comments were not acceptable and did not reflect well on the city, but he said there were other elements of Melchior’s job performance to date that were troubling as well.

    “The online thing was definitely a factor, but there were others,” Fruscione said.

    Fruscione, who has expressed an interest in possibly running for mayor himself this fall, criticized Dyster’s advocacy for nationwide searches when it comes to replacing top aides like the fire chief. He referenced two other controversial hires made by the Dyster administration following national searches, including former city engineer Ali Marzban who did not possess professional engineering credentials in New York State and former Economic Development Director Peter Kay who was roundly criticized by lawmakers for his lack of productivity.

    “I’m just thoroughly embarrassed and disgusted with these national searches,” Fruscione said. “This is the third one that hasn’t worked out for us.”

    Fruscione said he doesn’t want a fourth.

    “I hope the mayor doesn’t waste our time with another national search,” Fruscione said. “Let’s keep it local this time.”

    Dyster said he is not adverse to hiring from within to find the next fire chief, but said it is not necessarily a practical concept given that most of the top fire brass currently on the job earn more than the chief and would be forced to take a pay cut to accept the position. In general, Dyster said he still believes in the concept of conducting national searches because he feels it is a good way to find quality talent and to take the politics out of the appointment process.

    “These jobs should be based on professional competence and not any political consideration,” Dyster said.

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