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After a year of fighting, Oswego's mayor moves to replace fire chief

Payne Horning
WRVO News File Photo
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow is preparing to replace the city's fire department chief.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow is preparing to replace the city's fire department chief after a contentious year between the two that included battles over layoffs and overtime expenses. 

Barlow said he has no ill will toward Oswego Fire Department Chief Jeff McCrobie, just the culture he's created. Barlow is referring to the chief's former policy of prioritizing senior firefighters when offering overtime shifts, which is pricier for taxpayers in the long run. The mayor issued an executive order earlier this year to end that practice.  

"The chief reports directly to me and I need someone who is looking out for the city, the taxpayers, the mayor and looking out for the greater good, not just the firemen employed by the OFD," Barlow said. 

McCrobie, who's been with the department since the 1980s and chief since 2010, said that practice is longstanding. He said he was implementing the changes when the mayor abruptly ordered the end of that practice right as public outrage was at a fever pitch over his proposal to layoff 16 firefighters.  

Credit Oswego Fire Department
Oswego Fire Department Chief Jeff McCrobie is retiring in 2017 after more than three decades on the job.

"We slowly were changing that culture, not probably up to the speed that he would have wanted," McCrobie said. "You know, there 's a little politics involved in this too."

McCrobie points out that he's reduced overtime expenses in his tenure from more than $500,000 one year to less than $300,000 in 2016. But Barlow said it's time for a fresh start with someone more willing to let him have more control over the department.

"I’m excited and looking forward to moving the department forward, helping public perception of the department, personally getting more control in the day to day operations," Barlow said. "I think new leadership is important and will be good for the city, taxpayers and the department itself to bring in a fresh pair of eyes from the outside to literally start over."

McCrobie is working with Barlow on the retirement, which is scheduled to take place sometime in February. It's earlier than when he had planned to retire, but McCrobie said he's more upset with the mayor's call for an outside hire.

"I’m taking that probably harder than my assistant are," McCrobie said. "I would be more than pleased to hand the reins over to my assistant or one of the deputies."

The city will begin advertising the opening soon. McCrobie plans to stay with the department through the transition early next year.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.