The Verona Fire Department will keep Dan Machotka on as its fire chief – this time, in a permanent capacity.
The Police and Fire Commission at its May 11 meeting announced that it had chosen Machotka, who has been acting chief since former Chief Joe Giver officially retired Jan. 2 and has been the department’s officer in charge since Giver’s last day in the office, Sept. 27.
Machotka has been with the department since 2010, serving as a training officer, a lieutenant and deputy chief.
The process to fill the position left open by Giver has been a long one, with an initial search starting in August coming up empty Nov. 12, with a decision by the PFC to not hire either of its finalists, Jeffrey Pricher and Ralph Webster.
In January, the commission announced it had narrowed its second search to two new finalists, Machotka, who had originally said he did not want to take on the position permanently, and Matthew Arnold, a battalion chief from York, Pennsylvania.
Both made presentations on their background, skills and experience before commission members and the public – mostly Verona firefighters – Feb. 4.
A decision had still not been announced when the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down public gatherings all over the nation March 13.
Machotka said in his February presentation his primary focus will be on developing relationships, both internally and with the public.
Relationships between management and other personnel have been a topic of public scrutiny for years in the department. That issue came to a head in November 2018, when the Local 311 firefighter’s union that represents several members of the department asked Giver to resign, citing complaints about leadership and work culture in a third party report the city had commissioned over the summer.
Giver was put on a six-month performance improvement plan in October 2018 and made several changes to department procedures. In July 2019, he announced his retirement, which was official Jan. 2, 2020, but he began using accrued time off more than three months earlier. He told the Press he originally had planned to resign in January 2019 but held off to ensure it was under his own terms.
The report that led to his performance improvement plan had started with union complaints about assistant chief Don Catenacci in June 2018 in response to a disciplinary penalty of a union member. Catenacci resigned in December 2018 amid a police investigation of his behavior, which ended with no charges.
In Machotka’s February presentation, he emphasized his years of experience with the department and said there would be no question an employee could bring to his desk that he wouldn’t already know about.