Hall County Commissioner Gregg Poole spoke with AccessWDUN Thursday, stating he believed the county should look outside of Hall County Fire Rescue when hiring the department's next chief.
Poole's comments followed the August resignations of Chief Chris Armstrong and Deputy Chief Tim Woodward. Assistant Fire Chief Jerry Smith was named as interim Fire Chief by the county with Bryan Cash being named interim deputy chief following the resignations.
Few details have been released from official sources in the wake of the resignations. Poole said he believed Armstrong resigned from his position following the circulation of a vote of no confidence within the fire department. AccessWDUN previously filed an open records request about the matter with the county, but was told information about this topic could not be located.
Additionally, Poole said he believed a vote of no confidence was circulated due to "the situation that arose between the other two individuals." Poole would not name the parties he was referring to when asked. AccessWDUN previously filed an open records request for documents about this alleged situation and was told by Hall County Government that while these documents were located, they could not yet be released under Georgia law. The county specifically referenced an item that allows the withholding of documents about an investigation until 10 days after the conclusion of the investigation.
"Chief Armstrong didn't do anything wrong," Poole said. "In my view, he took some black eyes. And I can tell you, in the limited time I've seen him ... I just believe he was a good dude. You don't talk like he did about his employees, and then turn around, most of the time, and be a bad person. He represented his employees in a way that I didn't see hardly anybody else inside Hall County representing their staff."
Armstrong did not provide much detail about the reason for his resignation in his resignation letter.
"Upon joining Hall County, I was fully aware of the tasks that lay ahead and I am proud to state that I not only met the expectations of my role but consistently surpassed them," Armstrong said in an Aug. 28 resignation letter to Hall County Administrator Zach Propes. "Regrettably, I find myself at a juncture where I can no longer continue in an environment where my dedication, hard work and experience are not acknowledged or valued as they should be."
Similarly, former Deputy Chief Tim Woodward offered few details in his Aug. 28 resignation letter, stating only that he wished to resign "effective immediately."
The Hall County Commission voted on Sept. 14 to approve the hiring of external consultation services to review the department's operations.
Poole said the $90,000 study was already in the county's budget long before the August resignations and was not a reactionary measure.
"The $90,000 was always going to be spent for Fire Services to look at how the system's working," Poole said. "We're going to utilize it so that we can go outside or inside and identify the next fire chief. One thing we have to think about these fire chiefs, we've had this issue with three of them. The last three, there's been turmoil. It's not just turmoil now, there's always been turmoil, it seems like."
Poole said he believed removing the dive team from Hall County Fire Rescue's operations made Armstrong a target.
"People didn't like him doing away with the dive team, which I supported," Poole said. "I was for it. So if you're mad at him, you're mad at me."
Looking toward the future operations of the department, Poole said the study should take a deep dive into the operations of the department and determine any potential issues.
"[The study] will identify to us, do we have personnel issues?" Poole said. "Do we have administrative issues? Is it a Hall County issue? Is it a commissioner issue? Let's find the root cause of it."
Additionally, Poole said he hoped the next fire chief would come from outside Hall County Fire Rescue.
"I hope they go outside of Hall County, because inside of Hall County, from everything that we've seen in the administration, it pushes you to go outside," Poole said. "It drives you to want to go outside so that you can have an outsider's eyes come inside and say, 'Hey, this is the problem ... ' I'm not even saying we don't have qualified people, I'm sure we do."
Finally, Poole said he believed it was time to address what he considered problems within the department.
"To sit here and say that there is no problem inside the department would be like me sitting here, foaming at the mouth, and saying there's nothing wrong with me," Poole said. "There's nothing wrong with saying there's something wrong, and we need to figure out what it is. And I can guarantee you if there are employees in there, which I know there is, there's more of them that are putting out, doing the work, getting paid and they're earning every bit of our pay, they want us to find the problem too."
AccessWDUN's Caleb Hutchins' full interview with Poole can be accessed in the above Soundcloud player.