The organization that awarded Marc Revere with two major national awards for his skills as Novato's fire chief was stunned to learn of his sudden retirement Thursday — as were both of Novato's representatives on the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
Paul Brooks, executive director of the Virginia-based Center for Public Safety Excellence, said the news of Revere's departure from the Novato Fire District after six years is reverberating around the country because of his standout reputation as an expert in leadership and mentoring.
Brooks added that it was "a little bit odd" to hear that Revere, a 35-year firefighting veteran and 16-year department chief, went into a special meeting about his performance and came out without a job but also with an interim replacement, Ken Massucco, immediately taking over as chief.
"You can tell that was prearranged," Brooks said. "Marc is within the age and service time to retire, but that's not the normal sequence of events. ... We are surprised, and the (published reports) are being picked up today in a lot of industry media alerts."
In August 2012, Revere was the first recipient of the CPSE's Fire Chief of the Year award and was presented the honor during the Fire-Rescue International conference in Denver. The center recognized Revere for his emphasis on leadership, public service, integrity, innovation and professional development. Two years earlier, the center honored Revere as the first recipient of the national Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership and Legacy Award for "superior leadership and actions that have elevated the international fire and emergency service profession through mentoring, teaching and sharing outstanding contributions."
The Novato Fire District issued a two-paragraph press release Thursday stating that Revere had retired, and media inquiries were to be directed to board president Jim Galli. Two messages with Galli went unreturned Thursday, and Friday morning he only said, "We already sent out a press release. The chief retired and that's the information we'll be releasing. He retired for personal reasons. There you have it. That's it."
The district's human resources director, Lisa McCubbin, said she had no comment and directed all inquiries to Galli.
Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who represents the Fourth District (West Marin and parts of western Novato), said the personnel move was "pretty opaque" and that it was clear there was some sort of power struggle that would prompt the district to have an interim chief ready in waiting after Revere's performance review.
"I certainly didn't see it coming, and I'm not sure anyone did," he said. "... I wouldn't say it's out of bounds, and maybe it's frustrating to all of us, but it's not outside of the traditional norms."
Fifth District Supervisor Judy Arnold, who represents the majority of Novato, said she understands why the board members of a special district would be cautious about disseminating information in a personnel matter. She said she had no idea what prompted Revere's departure and that she was caught by surprise as well.
"Everyone has to be so careful about that kind of thing," she said. "You would never want to explain why in case like this because you open yourself up to liability and both you and the person involved could get hurt. I'm sure they want to protect themselves and protect Marc Revere.
"Of course we want transparency in government, but human resources has a whole code that it has to follow to protect people on both sides."
Laura Armor of San Anselmo is the retired HR director for the County of Marin. She said there are employment arrangements that provide varying degrees of protection for public employees.
"The assumption probably a lot of people are making is that he retired in lieu of being terminated, but we don't know that," Armor said. "As a personnel matter, assuming he's an at-will employee, it's a matter between the employer and the employee and nobody else. It's a balance between the public's right to know and the employee's privacy within their employment relationship. Just because taxpayer dollars are involved doesn't mean the public has the right to know personnel details."
Armor mentioned that the Marin Independent Journal successfully sued to obtain payroll records of public employees, but the retirement or dismissal of an employee is a more commonly confidential.
The CPSE's Brooks said Revere and Novato Fire have a stellar track record and are widely respected, making Thursday's news shocking.
"The organization is an exemplary organization," he said. "If we were to identify organizations that exhibit best practices within their category, without hesitation I'd say Novato is a best-practice organization and Chief Revere is highly regarded in our industry. He led it to a lot of success, and his influence goes beyond his own organization because he's been so visible in our industry, being a columnist for several publications and a frequent guest speaker. From our experience, it's all positive.
"We wish Chief Revere well in retirement. We hope it turns out well for both parties. That said, we are still very surprised."