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County hires former Colorado Springs firefighter who retired after internal investigation

August 8, 2013 Updated: August 8, 2013 at 9:05 pm
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photo - R.C. Smith Jr.
R.C. Smith Jr.  

A veteran Colorado Springs firefighter who retired under a cloud of suspicion has a new job with El Paso County, which didn't question him about why he was placed on administrative leave from the city.

Former Battalion Chief R.C. Smith, Jr. retired Sept. 19 after a nearly 38-year career with the Colorado Springs Fire Department. His retirement came after a seven-month internal investigation that city and fire officials refused to discuss, saying only that it was a personnel issue.

On July 23, Smith started working for the county as the Waldo Canyon recovery manager. Job duties include coordinating and planning flood preparedness, flood mitigation, public awareness and recovery efforts between multiple agencies and groups, county spokesman Dave Rose said Thursday.

The yearlong job pays $50,000 and is funded from a fire management grant, he said.

The job was posted July 9-16 on the county's website "in accordance with our standard practices," Rose said. Smith was one of five applicants interviewed by a three-person panel, which gave him the highest rating, he said.

"It was general knowledge (from media reports) that the City had placed him on administrative leave prior to his retirement but their reasons for taking that action were never disclosed and are sealed in City personnel records," Rose said in an email.

"They were not discussed as part of the hiring process which focused on selecting the best qualified candidate for the position," he added.

In a telephone interview Thursday night, Rose said one of the people who conducted the interview gave two reasons for not asking Smith about his issues at the city.

First, Rose said, the city "has made a lot of personnel decisions that don't reflect necessarily on the individuals" under a new form of government in which the mayor is essentially the chief executive.

Second, even if the panel had asked Smith about his administrative leave, the panel would have only gotten his side of the story, he said.

"You wouldn't be able to access the city's view anyway," Rose said.

Smith had a "noteworthy career" prior to his retirement, Rose said.

"R.C. Smith brings to the job an enormous amount of training and real world experience in dealing with fires, floods and other emergencies," he said in the email.

"The County expects that over time the landscape across the burn scar will heal, required mitigation projects will be completed and do their job. Accordingly, flash flooding dangers will diminish, but for now the workload associated with fire recovery and flood mitigation is substantial."

Smith, whose father, Richard Smith, served as Colorado Springs fire chief from 1979 to 1989, could not be reached Thursday for comment.

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Contact Daniel J. Chacon 476-1623.

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