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Tammy Hall
Tammy Hall

A panel of first responders and county administrators will meet this week to narrow the list of candidates for Lee County’s top public safety position.

Former Public Safety Director John Wilson retired in September, after The News-Press revealed federal rule violations preceded the shutdown of the county’s medical flight program, Medstar.

The panel will be tasked with selecting about 15 applications from the 28 candidates who are standing.

“We want to be sure we have someone with experience who knows what they’re doing and brings our program up to par,” Commissioner Tammy Hall said. “Whenever you have interim people, things aren’t running the ways they should.”

The county received 180 applications in response to the job opening.

Once the panel narrows the list to 15, telephone interviews will eliminate 10, followed by face to face meetings with the remaining five candidates.

Interim County Manager Doug Meurer will decide who gets the job.

“It’s one of the most important departments that’s under the board of county commissioners,” Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass said. “I’m looking forward to the administration picking the right person for that position.”

The panel will consist of Assistant County Manager and Interim Public Safety Director Holly Schwartz; two Emergency Medical Services workers; the program’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Lemmons; Lee County Fire Chiefs’ Association President William Elliot and other county administrators, Schwartz said.

“Certainly relevant experience is important, but we are also looking for someone with strong leadership, management and fiscal skills,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said she hopes to offer someone the position by end of the month. The job’s salary will range from $71,500 to $115,300, she said.

Who wants it?

Applicants in the running include police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services workers.

Three county employees are among those remaining : EMS Lt. Bruce Collins, emergency call program manager Tina Taviano and director of Lee County Veterans’ Affairs, John Ebling.

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Ebling, a former Army combat medic with a master’s in human resource development, said his experience and education qualifies him for the post.

“From a personal standpoint, I think they need somebody who will come in and be a hands-on coordinator,” Ebling said.

The Clerk of Court concluded Wilson’s hands off leadership style fostered the mismanagement and infighting that led up to Medstar’s downfall, in an audit the clerk released last year.

Collins has 35 years of experience in public safety.

Taviano ran the 911 dispatch center for Fort Wayne, Ind., before she came to Lee.

In 2009, the city placed her on paid administrative leave and reassigned her to a temporary post in the controller’s office, according to news reports. Fort Wayne officials at the time did not publicly disclose the reason Taviano was placed on leave, according to news reports. Taviano declined to comment.

The only external candidate to return calls was Roger Melchior.

Melchior said he has nearly 44 years of experience in public safety. The part-time professor was formerly a Baltimore firefighter and fire chief for the town of Allouez, Wis.

In 2011, he was fired from his job as Niagara Falls fire chief after he posted a racial slur on the Internet, according to Melchior and news reports.

“That was two years ago; and I admitted that I made a mistake at the time,” Melchior said. “I was not suited for that position and I’ve moved on.”

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