The City of Aberdeen is about to lose two of its top department heads.
Aberdeen Fire Chief Dave Carlberg and Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe have both given notice that they plan to retire. The announcements came at last night’s City Council meeting.
Carlberg says he’ll leave the city effective Sept. 28. Bledsoe says he’ll stick around until the end of the year.
Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson said he knew both men had been thinking about retirement for some time and he’ll miss both of them.
“Chief Carlberg has done a terrific job and Larry has saved this city millions of dollars with his expertise,” Simpson said.
Simpson immediately took a step to fill Carlberg’s spot. On Wednesday night, he asked the City Council to consider confirming Aberdeen Battalion Chief Tom Hubbard as the new fire chief in the coming weeks. The recommendation came from Chief Carlberg. Simpson said he interviewed Hubbard for about an hour recently and concurs with the chief’s recommendation.
In looking for Bledsoe’s replacement, Simpson asked the council to hire a specialty firm to conduct a nationwide search. Simpson says his goal is to find a civil engineer with the qualifications to be a public works director and the expertise to oversee flooding issues as well as Bledsoe has over the years.
On Wednesday, the council approved spending up to $20,000 with the consulting firm Prothman from Issaquah to help find the city’s next public works director. The firm has a guarantee that should the selected finalist leave the city or be terminated for cause within two years of the employment date, it will conduct a replacement search at no additional charge. City Councilman Jeff Cook said the guarantee sold him on the contract.
Simpson said Bledsoe will be the one who will ultimately choose his own replacement from the candidate pool.
“I trust Larry completely to put us in the best hands,” Simpson said.
Bledsoe wasn’t at Wednesday night’s meeting. Simpson said he had recently worked out an arrangement with Bledsoe to reduce his position slightly from full time so that he can spend more time at his potential retirement home in Idaho.
As the Public Works Director, Bledsoe has been the go-to-guy when it comes to all things streets, city lights and flooding. He’s been the director for more than a decade and is credited for solving most of the city’s flooding problems by improving tide gates and installing pumps.
“He took a multi-million dollar project and did it all with just a fraction of the costs,” Simpson said. “He has worked the impossible and earned the trust of mayors and council members.”
Bledsoe has recently been pushing the city to adopt a sales tax increase to dedicate funds to pave city streets and he’s been part of city public art projects, including the recent efforts to install a public art project to honor the Weatherwax family.
Carlberg has spent almost 35 years with the department.
“My fire service has been challenging, rewarding, humbling and most of all inspirational,” Carlberg wrote in a letter to Mayor Simpson. “I now look forward to new opportunities, perhaps at a bit slower pace. I love this department and have given my entire professional life to it. …
“I thank the many members of the city council whom I have worked with over the years, as well as the department heads who have been good friends and associates,” Carlberg added. “Over the years, our management team has worked together to address many difficult and sometimes impossible challenges and we have done this as a team. Most of all, I thank the many members of the Aberdeen Fire Department I’ve had the privilege to serve in my 34-plus years of service.”
Carlberg says he has been working with Hubbard as his possible replacement for a couple of years now. Deputy Fire Chief Rich Malizia says he supports Hubbard for the job, as well.
Several council members were prepared to confirm Hubbard into the position right away, but Mayor Simpson and City Attorney Eric Nelson cautioned the council to give it a couple weeks to look at Hubbard’s qualifications and officially accept Carlberg’s retirement letter.
Simpson said there’s no need to conduct a huge search for a replacement, like there is for Bledsoe’s position, because Hubbard already has all of the qualifications for the job.
“I think Battalion Chief Hubbard could write his own ticket anywhere he wants, but the fact he wants to stay here in Aberdeen is a great thing,” Simpson said.
Hubbard has been with the Aberdeen Fire Department since 1995, when he was hired as a firefighter/paramedic. Prior to that, he worked for three years as a firefighter/paramedic with the City of Hoquiam and as a volunteer firefighter with Wishkah Fire District 10 from 1988 to 1995. He’s currently enrolled in the executive fire officer program through the National Fire Academy.
“He has done more than anyone I know to prepare for this position,” Carlberg wrote in a glowing recommendation to the mayor. “His example, in terms of commitment to higher education and professional development will undoubtedly be a great legacy for future leaders to follow. He has a big picture view of the fire service for new ideas and methods that has been refreshing to watch.”
Hubbard, 52, said he’s ready for the new challenge, specifically noting the classes he’s taking with the National Fire Academy. He’s expected to graduate next year.
Hubbard notes he’s actually in his second career, after working on a survey boat for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which first brought him to Grays Harbor from California in 1984.
Carlberg will be 55 when he retires. He says he’ll likely move to eastern Washington to be closer to his grandchildren and family.