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Janesville Fire Chief finalist Ernest Rhodes, center left, and John Clark, center right, speak with guests during a meet-and-greet reception at City Hall on Tuesday for the four finalists competing for the position.

JANESVILLE

Ernest G. Rhodes III, a former fire chief in Missouri and director of that state’s emergency management agency, has been named chief of the Janesville Fire Department from a slate of four finalists.

The Janesville Police and Fire Commission chose Rhodes on Wednesday night following two days of closed-session interviews and deliberations. Rhodes replaces former Chief Randy Banker, who retired last month.

Rhodes was the fire chief of the West County EMS and Fire Protection District in Missouri for five years until 2017. He left for a job as the state director of the Missouri Emergency Management Agency. He has also worked on various Federal Emergency Management Agency teams since 2000.

Rhodes could not immediately be reached for comment.

DuWayne Severson, chairman of the commission, said Rhodes will work with Janesville’s Human Resources Director Sue Musick to determine when he will start and his salary. Severson said those details will likely be ironed out by the end of the week and that Rhodes could begin in about a month.

Severson lauded Rhodes’ experience Wednesday night, pointing to his leadership “in all facets of fire safety.” Rhodes has held various positions in fire service, Severson said, and he was the only candidate who has worked for state and federal agencies.

“He’s an exceptional candidate with a broad range of fire experience that will benefit the city of Janesville,” Severson said.

Severson said the commission asked candidates in interviews about their experience sharing services with other departments, in part because the Janesville Fire Department shares administrative services with the Milton Fire Department.

A report last month indicated Milton’s fire station is outdated and recommended building a new one.

Rhodes’ hiring also comes as tensions between city administration and Janesville’s fire union linger. Janesville Fire Fighters Local 580 President Jason Daskam told The Gazette in October the city mishandled contract negotiations and strained the working relationship between the two sides.

Severson said the commission asked how each candidate has generally navigated relationships with unions during candidate interviews but steered clear of discussing specifics.

According to the Jefferson City News Tribune, Rhodes is named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed in Missouri court. A former deputy director of the Missouri Emergency Management Agency alleges Rhodes, the agency’s director at the time, discriminated against her for being an older woman.

The employee claims Rhodes did not meet with her to discuss her job, that he was partial to male employees and that she was put on administrative leave after filing a complaint, according to the News Tribune.

Severson said the commission discussed the lawsuit with Rhodes during interviews. He said the commission felt comfortable hiring Rhodes after reviewing the lawsuit.

The other finalists for the position were:

  • John C. Clark, fire chief, Baker City, Oregon.
  • Jim Ponkauskas, the interim Janesville fire chief who was Banker’s deputy fire chief.
  • James P. Zarek, deputy fire chief, DeKalb, Illinois.

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