GOLDEN VALLEY - Golden Valley Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue tendered his resignation on Friday to the fire district governing board, marking the end of four-plus years in Golden Valley. He anticipates he'll be with the GVFD through the end of October.
Unlike his predecessors, O'Donohue had a relatively long tenure with the district. In the three years prior to his arrival there were six chiefs, some of whom served on an interim basis.
While it wasn't the sole reason for his departure, O'Donohue did cite a rift between the department and residents as part of his decision to leave.
"The community politics have been difficult since before I arrived," said O'Donohue. "When I took over as the fire chief in February 2011, the board of directors gave me clear direction, and I knew my job as a change agent was going to be an uphill battle considering we at GVFD have been doing the same thing for years. We were falling behind, or never even were considered caught up."
Board member Steve Robinson echoed O'Donohue's sentiments.
"I don't blame Tom for leaving at this time. Nobody can put up with all the lies, distortions, and false accusations coming from a group that includes two former disgraced board members," said Robinson. He specifically referred to Lovelle Barnett and Rhonda Brooks as those board members. Barnett resigned from the board in 2010, while Brooks lost her recall election earlier this year. Both have been very vocal opponents of the chief.
Board member Jack Hommel sees this as an opportunity for healing, especially between a community that appears to be at odds with how their fire district is run.
"Chief O'Donohue had a completely different view in how this district needed to be conducted, compared to board members and the community. There was, in my opinion, no way that the community and the chief would have ever gotten along peacefully," said Hommel. "The future of the GVFD is brighter because there will be less dissension and tension. Business can be done in a more practical and pragmatic way."
But even with the contention, O'Donohue says he's leaving the district in much better shape as an organization.
"We're a far better trained organization. The professionalism inside, particularly among the officer ranks, is outstanding. The culture inside the department has been steadily getting better," said O'Donohue. "What we do matters, is measurable and makes a difference in the lives of our community every day on some level."
"That's because of quality people in the organization. I'll be leaving some colleagues and friends behind. I'll miss them."
O'Donohue will be taking a fire chief position at the Wittmann, Ariz., Fire District. A new chief will be hired by the board of directors, but until that time Assistant Chief Jack Yeager will lead the district on an interim basis upon O'Donohue's departure.
There doesn't appear to be dissent within GVFD's administrative ranks concerning Yeager. Robinson said that Yeager has handled the budget very well and has a "passion for operations." Hommel said that Yeager is an "outstanding professional and will do one hell of a good job."
O'Donohue said the district is in good hands, and that Chief Yeager is "a phenomenal chief officer."
O'Donohue did have one last request for the public, however.
"I ask those who have been so unjustifiably critical of nearly every decision made at GVFD to step back and support their new fire chief and realize there is much more work to be accomplished," O'Donohue said.
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