Amid comments from those favoring someone with a fire department background, the city council approved Police Cmdr. Jason Lister as the city's new public safety director.
At Monday's city council meeting, City Manager Julian Deleon said Lister has been with the city's police department for 16 years and has been progressively promoted from sergeant to police commander.
The position of public safety director oversees the city's community policing department and code enforcement and performs the administrative duties of the fire department.
Former councilman George Hall noted that according to the city charter, and with the city manager form of government, the council cannot choose who fills the position. That is Deleon's job, but this is the council's opportunity to have control over that.
"I would recommend tonight that you not approve the contract, nothing personal against Mr. Lister, an impeccable police officer who has done a great job for the City of Avon Park," Hall said.
When the city went to a public safety director there was more emphasis in filling the position with someone with a police background because the city had more police officers than firefighters, he said. Now it's the opposite situation, with the city having more fire personal than police personnel.
"We have had, for five years now, a fire department that has been run by all union personnel," he said. Typically, you have a department head who is not a union member so there is a check and balance within a department.
Now is the time for council to possibly have a workshop and decide what direction it wants to go with the public safety director position, Hall said. He recommends hiring a fire chief.
Former mayor Tom Macklin said he agreed with Hall's comments.
The fire department has run itself pretty well over the past five years, he said, but the public safety director should be a fire chief or someone who has a background in fire services.
Avon Park firefighter Paul Shannon congratulated Lister and said the fire department will respect Deleon's decision to fill the public safety director position.
But, Shannon said, in the future, possibly next year, he would like to see the department get an operational manager who has the expertise to lead the department and who would be at the department Monday through Friday.
Deleon noted that the director contract for Lister specifies that he would be required to become certified as a firefighter and emergency medical technician within two years.
"I believe both Cmdr. Lister and Sgt. [Brian] Robinson have already enrolled in the EMT class," Deleon said. "By charter I am allowed to assemble my team … Cmdr. Lister is a good fit and can serve the city in a fine capacity. I urge you to please approve his contract."
Councilman Paul Miller said: "I think Mr. Lister or Mr. Robinson would be great in the job, but we have not had a fire chief for four years."
This would be a good time to get a fire chief, he said.
By a 3-1 vote, Council approved Lister's contract as public safety director, with a base salary of $65,000.
Miller voted "no" and Councilman Terry Heston was absent from the meeting.
The city's only previous public safety director, John King, resigned in July amid the controversy leading up to council deciding on Aug. 4 to contract with the sheriff's office for primary police protection for the city.