The Ministry of Home Affairs said it will announce on Friday a new acting fire chief to replace David Hails, whose three-year contract expires on the same day.
The ministry said it is also in the midst of searching for an interim chief fire officer, to serve for 12 months and be paid between $105,252 and $128,232.
Opposition legislators have criticized the way Mr. Hails departed, alleging that he received more than $40,000 for the compensatory time he accrued during his tenure. Mr. Hails, for his part, said this was a standard payment made for owed comp time and accrued leave, and that virtually every other person in his department received payouts.
At a Jan. 16 meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, MLA Chris Saunders asked why Mr. Hails received “a chunk of money for time in lieu” when other civil servants such as Needs Assessment Unit workers are not paid for working overtime. MLA Bernie Bush added that Mr. Hails received $41,000 for his comp time.
Accountant General Matthew Tibbetts responded that he was not familiar with the details of Mr. Hails’s departure, but that employees of ministries and government departments are supposed to take their comp time before they leave. If a staff member comes to the end of his or her contract and still has comp time, the deputy governor is required to approve paying out that comp time, he said.
Mr. Manderson said he was aware of the matter, but needed to speak to the ministry to obtain further details before commenting on the issue.
However, Mr. Hails told the Compass on Thursday that his payout was a standard payment made to him and other fire service officers.
“This was a standard pay out at the start of 2018 for all CIFS personnel owed comp time and accrued leave – virtually every person in the department received payouts. You should also note that the annual overtime bill for approximately 90 operational personnel is in excess of CI$2 million,” he said in an email to the Compass, responding to reports about his departure. “I know of many CIFS and other government employees who receive comp time payouts.”
Mr. Hails was the first non-Caymanian to serve as chief fire officer, and he had disputes with his Caymanian crew that at times spilled into the public domain.
In August 2017, internal communications sent to Fire Service staff members by departing officers showed some disgruntlement and alleged that a number of firefighters have chosen to leave the service.
At a graduation ceremony for 17 cadets on Sept. 3, 2017, Mr. Hails confirmed that five officers transferred to the Department of Public Safety Communications. When asked why those officers transferred, Mr. Hails said, “You’ll have to ask them.” During that same ceremony, Mr. Hails made sniping comments about the state of the Fire Service at the time, asking the 17 new firefighters what they will one day tell their grandchildren about how they spent their career.
“It could be answer one, which would be: ‘Well, I was a fire officer, and I sat at work in front of the TV all day, and I moaned and bitched about how bad things were, and how the Fire Service did nothing for me,’” Mr. Hails said. “Or you could say answer two: ‘When I was a fire officer, I was one of the team of dedicated fire officers who helped shape the Fire Service into the world-class organization it is today.’”
The fire chief added that his department is a “long way” from being world-class, but that he’s counting on his first class of graduates to make the latter choice. About a year ago, government released an organizational review done by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers on the Fire Service, which found a measure of discontent among employees over uncompetitive pay and lack of advancement opportunities.
That report noted that Mr. Hails only had one more year on his contract, and that five of the six senior officers directly reporting to him are currently “acting” – not permanently appointed – in those jobs. The situation has led to significant uncertainty in the Cayman Islands Fire Service, according to a report released last February.
Mr. Hails also responded on Thursday to the concerns about a lack of a succession plan in the wake of his departure.
“I have provided every person who expressed an interest in holding Deputy Positions to act for a prolonged period of time. This provided each person with an opportunity to experience working in those positions and for me and others to observe their actions and performance,” he stated. “It would not have been possible for me to immediately choose personnel for advancement without knowing them; this would not have been an acceptable working practice.”