JANESVILLE

New Janesville Fire Chief Ernest Rhodes begins his first day on the job one week from now.

Rhodes is scheduled to start Monday, March 18, and earn a salary of $115,000. That’s the same salary the city advertised, Human Resources Director Sue Musick said.

The police and fire commission selected Rhodes on Feb. 20 among a field of four finalists. He replaces former Chief Randy Banker, who retired in January.

Jim Ponkauskas, one of the four finalists, is leading the department as interim chief.

Rhodes spent five years as the fire chief of West County EMS and Fire Protection District in Missouri. In 2017, he left to become the state director of the Missouri Emergency Management Agency.

He also has experience working for various Federal Emergency Management Agency teams.

Rhodes has 20 days of vacation and 20 days of sick leave. Those benefits are consistent with newly hired external department and division heads within the city staff hierarchy, Musick said.

Other benefits for Rhodes include:

  • $350 per month vehicle allowance.
  • $100 per month cellphone service allowance.
  • Up to $3,500 reimbursement for moving expenses.
  • Membership costs to relevant national and state organizations.
  • Reimbursement for expenses for professional conferences within the parameters of the department budget.

Banker had the same benefits. He earned a salary of $130,000 at the time of his retirement, Musick said.

Rhodes agreed to the terms Feb. 25 via email. He did not sign a contract because he’s employed at the will of the police and fire commission. City Manager Mark Freitag is the only city employee with a contract, she said.

Rhodes successfully passed a drug test and physical, and he must relocate to Janesville or within 15 miles of city limits within six months. If he moves to Janesville and resigns within a year, he would have to reimburse the city for 50 percent of his moving expenses, Musick said.

Since he was named fire chief, Rhodes has not returned multiple phone calls from Gazette reporters seeking comment.

Rhodes has a pending lawsuit in Missouri, filed by a former deputy director of the Missouri Emergency Management Agency who said Rhodes, the director, discriminated against her for being an older woman.

The woman claims Rhodes did not meet with her to discuss her job, was partial to male employees and put her on administrative leave after she filed a complaint, according to the Jefferson City News Tribune.

Janesville Police and Fire Commission Chairman DuWayne Severson previously told The Gazette that the commission discussed the lawsuit with Rhodes during interviews and felt comfortable hiring him after further review.

This story has been updated to clarify information about city employment benefits.

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