BREMERTON — Mayor Greg Wheeler’s displeasure with Fire Chief David Schmitt came to a head over a PowerPoint presentation.
Schmitt, the veteran chief who was spearheading a post-recession rehabilitation of the 60-member fire department, was prepping in October to go before the Bremerton City Council with several requests for funding, as well as to trumpet his department’s successes in finding new revenue to pay for those asks.
But the mayor, tasked with formulating a citywide budget for the council to review, rejected Schmitt’s PowerPoint. It was heavily edited to remove requests for funding outside of ones previously approved by the council.
“Please keep your presentation brief and stay with the script in the slide,” Wheeler wrote in an email to Schmitt on Oct. 22.
The chief, however, wouldn’t even have the chance to do that. One day before the City Council presentation, on Oct. 24, the mayor fired him “without cause.” There was a clause in Schmitt’s contract that allowed the mayor to terminate him without saying why. Were Wheeler to announce a reason publicly, it could give Schmitt a legal avenue to appeal his ousting.
Schmitt, for his part, said in an interview Nov. 7 that the PowerPoint led to his ouster.
“He didn’t appreciate it,” Schmitt said. “And for that, I’m gone.”
But in interviews with various city officials and reviews of documents obtained by the Kitsap Sun, a battle over the fire department’s budget had been looming. Wheeler also wasn’t the first city leader to question Schmitt’s requests to the council for funding.
His firing, however, came as a shock to many in city government. The fire department’s union leadership decried the move, showing up in force to a city council meeting Nov. 7 and asking Wheeler to rehire Schmitt.
“It’s our belief that Mayor Wheeler made a serious error when he terminated the chief without cause,” said Rob Ashmore, president of the union representing Bremerton’s firefighters. “Absent any evidence to the contrary, the move appears to be purely political.”
At another City Council meeting in November, Councilwoman Pat Sullivan questioned Wheeler directly, wondering if Bremerton would be able to attain another chief of Schmitt’s “caliber,” whose track record included developing nationally recognized firefighter training programs.
“I respectfully add my voice requesting the mayor to reinstate David Schmitt as fire chief,” Sullivan said.
From The Kitsap Sun