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MFD chief retires to head training center

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Sept. 17, 2003
Meridian Fire Chief H.C. "Bunky" Partridge will head the emergency training center on Sand Flat Road more than six months after stepping down from a similar job because of alleged ethics violations.
Partridge ended weeks of speculation over who might head the training center when he announced Tuesday he will retire as the city's fire chief Oct. 31 in order to take the new job starting the following day.
Partridge earns $60,000 a year as fire chief; after he retires, he will draw a pension based on 29 years of work. Partridge also will earn $60,000 a year in his new job; two thirds of his pay will be funded by a $350,000 federal grant and the rest by the city.
Mayor John Robert Smith called Partridge's new job "director of homeland security in Meridian." Smith said the job will allow the city to better compete for federal and state grants to run the training center.
Partridge said he will reclaim his old office at the training center.
Training center
Partridge's announcement at the Tuesday city council meeting came more than a month after councilmen voted to terminate Three I Public Safety Inc.'s lease with the training center effective in mid-August.
That date was later moved to Sept. 30.
Three I, a nonprofit organization, had operated the training center since 2001. The center has helped prepare firefighters, law officers and others to handle emergency situations.
Partridge, who spearheaded development of the project in the mid-1990s, said two months ago he would like to be considered to head the center under the city's supervision.
Earlier this year, Partridge headed the center and was being paid for his services by Three I.
Partridge stopped taking pay from Three I in March part of an apparent settlement with the Mississippi Ethics Commission over a possible ethical conflict with Partridge being paid by the city and Three I.
After a lengthy investigation, state Attorney General Mike Moore found no criminal wrongdoing by Partridge. Three I still exists, but will have nothing to do with the Sand Flat Road training center.
Chief retires
Smith said Partridge's retirement couldn't have come at a better time.
Smith, though, said that the creation of the new department doesn't mean that Meridian is a likely target for a terrorist attack.
Smith said Partridge will spend much of his time securing future grants and coordinating emergency training for firefighters, police officers, emergency management workers, medical professionals.
Even though the city will pay one third of Partridge's salary, Smith will be considered on "equal status with the other six department heads." Smith said he plans to name a new fire chief by Nov. 1.
Partridge said he is excited about his new job.
In other Business
The Meridian City Council took the following actions during its regular meeting Tuesday:
Voted to keep the same city property tax rate and a .07 percent decrease in the property tax rate for the Meridian Separate School District both for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Voted unanimously to pay off the full balance of its $10 million line of credit with the Mississippi Development Bank. The money had been used for the interim financing associated with the downtown parking garage.
Approved a 2.5 percent employee pay raise that will be awarded in the following manner: each city employee will receive a $400 raise with the rest given on a merit-based system.
Voted to reverse a 2001 city council order that put a cap on city employees' salaries and restricted them from making more money than the mayor.