Following the letter of the law doesn't always bring about the desired result. That may be what's happening with Salisbury's fire chief, Jeff Simpson.
The "letter of the law" in Simpson's case is his employment contract with the city of Salisbury, which requires that he establish residency within the 21801/21804 zip code area within six months of starting work. Simpson's appointment was announced in early October 2010.
Clearly he has been on the job more than a year now. He has established residency, according to Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton, and therefore has met the requirements of his contract.
Here's the problem: Simpson has not moved his family to the residence he established in the Salisbury area. His personal vehicle sports Virginia license plates. He voted just last month in a Hanover County, Va., election.
Simpson may have complied with the letter of the law --which does not forbid dual residency -- but he has skirted the spirit of that law, which was supposed to ensure that Salisbury's fire chief was a local resident with a presence and stake in the well-being of the city. If he is voting elsewhere, he cannot vote in local elections. If his children attend school elsewhere, he has no stake in the well-being of our schools and other institutions. His wife as well as his children remain behind in Mechanicsville, Va.; she, too, is not part of the Salisbury community. If his vehicle carries Virginia license plates, he is publicly on display as a nonresident.
Why does this matter?
On one level, it calls into question his commitment to Salisbury, the community whose lives and property Simpson is charged with protecting. On a deeper level, it impacts his effectiveness and leadership. The firefighters and others who work for him are well aware of his dual residency.
Home is where the heart is. For most people, that's where family is located. Simpson's family is not in Salisbury. Further evidence is seen in his voting registration. Since no one can register to vote in two jurisdictions, a higher level of involvement and caring is made obvious by this choice. Simpson has not registered to vote in Wicomico County.
Simpson may be the most competent fire chief available, but his command will not carry the weight it should until he has moved his family, vehicle registration and vote to Wicomico County. Expressing his intention to do so is not the same as actually doing it. And keeping his allegiance based more than 200 miles away in a suburb of Richmond, Va., does nothing but distance him from both the community and his firefighters.
The specifications of the contract have not been violated, we are told. But a fire chief's position is compromised by a long-distance, dual residency. A resident fire chief knows what is taking place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and understand the significance of those events. He's available to take the 3 a.m. call and respond quickly if needed.
We urge Simpson to move his wife, children, vehicle registration and his vote to Salisbury -- and more fully be one of us.
Editor's Note: I agree 100% he needs to make the full move here