St. Paul fire chief leaves for top job in Milwaukee
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - Weeks after the union here gave him a vote of no-confidence, St. Paul Fire Chief Doug Holton has been named the new fire chief in Milwaukee, where he built his firefighting career.
The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission named Holton as chief Thursday.
"Although it was a difficult decision, it's an opportunity for me to go back to the fire department where my career began," Holton told The Associated Press. "I'm looking forward to being a little closer to family and friends."
Holton said he wasn't sure when he will start his new job.
He will be leaving St. Paul at a time when many firefighters and supervisors say morale is at its lowest.
Relations between Holton and the city's firefighters' unions soured over the past year, with the union voting 366-6 for no-confidence in his leadership.
Black leaders said last month's vote was influenced by Holton's race. Union leaders said it was based on his heavy-handed management style.
In addition, a 326-page independent audit of the St. Paul Fire Department recommended that officials find a solution to the department's "internal crisis," a reference to the poor relations between labor and management.
Bobbie Webber, president of the Milwaukee firefighters' union, said: "We have concerns about his history with the union up there, but we're prepared to work through the issues and move forward."
Holton said Thursday that the situation in St. Paul has been "challenging," but that he had applied for the job in Milwaukee almost five months ago. It's the third time he's applied for the post.
"The no-confidence vote by the rank-and-file had no bearing on my decision whatsoever," he said, adding that there have been improvements in the department since the audit, and "we are on the move, and I think everybody kind of rolled up their sleeves and decided ... let's move forward."
Holton became a firefighter with the Milwaukee department in 1978 and was promoted up the ranks. He was a deputy chief in charge of suppression in 2003, when left to become St. Paul's fire chief.
"I am very proud to have served here in St. Paul. I'm very proud of my accomplishments," he said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)