Clayton opts out of 4-city plan to consolidate fire department oversight for now

The city of Clayton has opted out of a group of St. Louis suburbs working to consolidate oversight of their fire protection services.

For the last several years, city leaders have been in talks about a proposal to establish a unified command  — the East Central Fire Command — to oversee fire responses and prevention in Clayton, Maplewood, Richmond Heights and Brentwood, but that pan will have to go on without the city that had been a big contributor to the plan, for now.

“I can only say that we worked very hard and put a lot of work into this, and I think Clayton has been a big contributor already to what’s going to make this a successful endeavor, even though we’re not jumping in right now,” Clayton City Manager Craig Owens said.

The plan emerged from a report by an Oregon-based consultant, Emergency Services Consulting International, which calls for one chief to direct fire operations in the participating cities. Three deputy chiefs, three battalion commanders and two inspectors would fill the remaining leadership roles.

Owens highlighted two specific reasons as to why Clayton decided to opt out — first and foremost the retirement of Fire Chief, Mark Thorpe, who hung up his helmet earlier this year after 35 years at the helm.

Thorpe was instrumental and key through conversations on this study, but his departure leaves Clayton with a small amount of firefighters to join the chain of command.

As it stands right now, had Clayton signed onto the collaboration, all three deputy chiefs would be from other jurisdictions, with three of the six battalion chiefs — the lowest level of the command configuration — being from Clayton.

“I think had (Thorpe) gone into this collaboration as part of the command staff, we would think differently about it,” Clayton City Manager Craig Owens said.

Considering the fact that Clayton would be a 40 percent contributor of the funding with very little input in the chain of command, Owens said the timing isn’t right just yet.

“It just isn’t the way that that could start off for us,” Owens said. “Now, they may get going well and we can contribute at the right time and join that, but I think there could be better timing.”

The board agreed unanimously during Tuesday night’s meeting to drop out of the plan for now, citing Owens recommendation as the most beneficial piece of advice for the city.

Still, Owens said he believes the plan can work with just the remaining three cities and added that Maplewood, Richmond Heights and Brentwood “are anxious to get this done and move on either way.”

“This is a concept that we think has tremendous merit in the future,” Owens said. “Despite working very hard and diligently with our neighboring jurisdictions and with the other city managers and fire chiefs, we just don’t think right now is the right time, but we believe the time will come, and that we should be continuing to work together.”

All five of the Aldermen in attendance and Mayor Harold Sanger agreed.

“My hope is that it is not a long time that we would re-energize the assessment and creation of a solution that we were leaders in trying to start a regional kind of public safety,” Alderman Alex Berger said. “That may be what we lay out or define, maybe that’s not where we end up, but I think with our participation we’ll add value to the determination of what will be a regional public safety organization.”

A similar proposal, which included the four municipalities and Rock Hill, was shot down last August when Rock Hill dropped out of the unified fire command proposal because the cost of implementing the plan was too high. Glendale opted out of participation as well.

In other business, the board approved a transfer of the conditional use permit and a liquor license for Copia II, an 8,200 square-foot, 160 seat restaurant, which will be located at 7822 Bonhomme Avenue.

Eyad Tammas and Amer Hawatmeh, owners of Clayton Foods, LLC and Copia on Washington Ave, submitted the application and are seeking to open their second location in the old Morton’s steakhouse building.

It was reported in September that the downtown restaurant will open its second location at Morton’s Clayton address after the steakhouse moved to Lumière Place in November after 24 years.

Copia has posted a notice about the second location on its website, which says Copia II will open in March.

The board also approved the final amendment to the FY2017 Budget and appointed Cynthia Garnholz as a provisional Municipal Judge in Ward II following the recent resignation of John Wallach.

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