Departure leads to exodus of volunteer firefighters
By Paul Rhodes and Sam Jack
CLEARWATER – The resignation of Clearwater Emergency Services director Scott Cooper, along with a severance package for Cooper, was accepted Tuesday evening by the Clearwater City Council.
The vote to accept Cooper’s resignation and approve the severance package was unanimous at the end of a special council meeting that had been called to discuss matters related to non-elected personnel. Once the meeting was called to order, council members, Mayor Burt Ussery, Clearwater city administrator Ron Marsh and the city attorney immediately went into executive session for 45 minutes. At the start of the meeting, council members Tex Titterington, Shirley Palmer-Witt, Laura Papish and Yvonne Coon were present. Later in the meeting, council member Chris Griffin joined the discussion and voted by phone.
At the close of the executive session, Mayor Ussery noted that the city had received a request from Cooper to resign his position as the city’s director of emergency services. The resignation included a proposed severance package, Ussery said. As director of emergency services, Cooper has headed up the city’s fire and EMS personnel for the past two years.
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The mayor, city administrator and city attorney went into a private meeting to discuss the severance package with Cooper. When they returned to the council room, the vote to accept the resignation and approve the severance package was taken.
Mayor Ussery did not disclose the amount or terms of the severance package, but did say those details were entered in the record for the meeting. The Times-Sentinel was not able to obtain the details following the meeting.
Prior to the start of Tuesday’s meeting, several members of the Clearwater Fire Department took turns shaking Cooper’s hand and wishing him well. At the end of the meeting, several of those firefighters came to the front of the council room to turn in their resignations. They placed the resignations in a pile on the council room floor.
An audience member tried to address members of the council as they were leaving, expressing his disappointment with the council’s action. He received a round of applause from a number of the audience members, who totaled more than 50. Two Wichita television stations also were on hand to cover the meeting.
Cooper’s resignation was effective immediately. After the meeting, Cooper kept his comments brief.
“I wish the best for the city and the citizens of this community,” he said. “I’ve tried to make some changes (in the emergency services department) and hopefully they made a difference.”
Cooper said the community needs to rally around the new emergency services director, and “support whoever that is.”
Beyond that, Cooper said he could not comment on his resignation.
Earlier this year, the city released an open letter regarding complaints about the city’s emergency services department. Ussery said he and each member of the city council had received “numerous anonymous letters” of complaint over several weeks leading up to a city council meeting in late April.
Based on a letter Ussery sent to The Times-Sentinel, his open letter to citizens, and an interview, the anonymous letters apparently expressed disagreement with changes to Clearwater’s volunteer fire and EMS services that were implemented after both services were brought under the leadership of a single paid employee, Cooper, two years ago.
“Each volunteer must be willing to train and participate in actual calls,” Ussery wrote in his open letter. “Since 2016, there has been turnover in both the fire department and EMS. Turnover has been a result of retirements, resignations, and removal due to lack of participation.
“At the same time,” Ussery continued, “both departments have loyal volunteers who continue to serve. There has also been an increase in the volunteers through the cadet program.”
The mayor’s open letter also stated that the city received a letter from former members of the emergency services department, saying that they “would come back if leadership is changed.”