By Bob Uphues
Spencer Kimura was quietly fired from his job as chief of the Riverside Fire Department last week, shortly before the village board's meeting on July 16. The village has not announced Kimura's termination, but it was confirmed by village officials on Monday after a reporter noticed Kimura's name scrubbed from the village's website.
Village Manager Jessica Frances, who terminated Kimura in the late afternoon on July 16, had little to say about his removal as chief.
"I can't comment on personnel matters," said Frances, who took over as village manager in January after a three-month stint as interim manager.
Village President Ben Sells also was tight-lipped about the removal of Kimura as chief, saying, "It's an internal personnel matter, and I'm not going to comment."
According to Frances, the village is not providing Kimura with a severance package and there is no separate agreement. Kimura — hired in 2011 to steady the department after a tumultuous couple of years that ended when his predecessor, Kevin Mulligan, was fired — did not have a contract. His annual salary was $80,371.
Matthew Buckley, who served as Kimura's deputy fire chief, has been named interim fire chief.
The move, said Frances, will allow her to assess the command structure of the fire department and whether any changes need to be made structurally with regard to the department, which traditionally has been staffed by a part-time chief and paid-on-call firefighters. Kimura worked 32 hours per week, according to Frances.
Buckley, whose full-time job is deputy police chief in neighboring Lyons, will also serve part time in the fire chief's role.
"I don't know if the position will change, but it will give me a chance to vet it and see what makes sense for the department as a whole," Frances said.
Frances has not launched a search for a new fire chief at this time.
"I'm not recruiting right now for that position," Frances said.
A resident of the north suburbs, the 57-year-old Kimura, never entirely meshed in Riverside. A retired battalion chief with the Glenview Fire Department, Kimura was brought in to smooth the waters after Mulligan's termination, which had split the department into factions.
Mulligan ended up suing the village and Buckley, winning a $350,000 settlement to drop the suit.
But the resentment didn't end there. In 2014, four Riverside firefighters — including three fire lieutenants — filed a federal lawsuit against the village and Kimura, claiming they were disciplined unfairly in part because of their loyalty to Mulligan. That suit was dismissed completely by a U.S. District Court judge earlier this year.
Buckley, whose concerns over Mulligan's on-the-job behavior triggered the village's termination action, said he is working collaboratively with all members of the command staff.
"I'm utilizing the officer corps in a collaborative effort to make sure projects and services are maintained at the highest levels," Buckley said.
Buckley said he wasn't concerned about past history with respect to his role in Mulligan's departure four years ago. He said he met with all members of the command staff and was confident they would all work together for the good of the department.
"Every one of the supervisors are on board with working collaboratively to make sure everything gets accomplished properly," Buckley said. "We are all looking to move beyond the past and move forward."
Frances also expressed confidence that the command staff will respond well under Buckley's direction.
"I've gotten to know a lot of them, and we are very lucky with the fire supervisors we have," Frances said.
Attempts to reach Kimura were unsuccessful.