Thursday, October 12, 2006
Hiring discussion clears air
By SUE WATSON
Holly Springs Mayor Andre’ DeBerry and the board of aldermen appeared to have settled their differences at the October 3 meeting after vigorous open discussion of the issues around leadership roles.
The board, after the mayor’s recommendation, voted unanimously to offer the position of police chief and of utility department general manager to one of the applicants in each pool.
The action moved the issue out of deadlock but not after much debate over who has authority to recommend an applicant and whether the board of aldermen is required by law to hire someone recommended by the mayor.
Briefly, Rep. Kelvin Buck called for open discussion by pressing the mayor and board to find a solution. He said the community would feel comfortable if it knew how the matter was going to be resolved instead of being deadlocked in the revolving door of veto and veto override.
Alderman Garrie Colhoun spoke first for the board, saying there were several applicants for both positions and the board did not have the opportunity to select their choice - the mayor supported his choice.
“The mayor’s choice was low man on the totem pole for four of us,” he said, referring to the police chief’s pool of applicants. “So I asked for a second round of interviews with our three candidates and the mayor’s choice. We voted unanimously for that candidate. We got vetoed and we voted to override the veto.”
DeBerry insisted he did not veto the board’s choice for police chief or general manager directly, but indirectly. He said he vetoed the process.
“We need to move forward,” said Buck. “Where is your attorney?”
DeBerry said he has a right to pick his own team. Utility director Tom Boone was hired by John Mayor Dabney Brown, and police chiefs, when he came in as mayor, were hired by the late mayor Eddie Lee Smith, he said. He said as alderman he did not agree with Smith’s recommendation to hire chiefs Marion and Totten and neither did Buck who also served as alderman at the time.
“Are we following the law, Mayor? Buck asked. “It’s plain and simple.”
DeBerry said he is standing on Section 21-3-15 of the Mississippi Code.
He argued a right to assemble his own team of department heads, since he has administrative authority over city employees.
Buck asked Alderman Tim Liddy to put himself in the position of mayor.
“Do you think a person would work out if that’s the person a CEO (the mayor) does not want?” Buck asked.
Liddy said five or six elected officials never all agree all the time.
“But when we (individual aldermen) see we are outrated in number, we would concede and go along with the results,” he said. “I’m sure we would work with them (any new hire). You never know if an employee will work out. I hope they will.”
Alderman Russell Johnson spoke next saying the board recently hired a police chief (Burby) and a city clerk (McDonald).
“I think we set a standard by hiring those two people,” Johnson said. “I think it was by consensus - I do not remember a specific recommendation from the mayor.
“I think the board has a right to vote this mayor’s recommendation down.”
Speaking directly to the mayor Johnson continued.
“I think, Mayor, you have a right to recommend and if it’s voted up or down, you should be respectful of the board. The board has a right to appoint and you have veto power.”
“Do you not think you are circumventing the whole process? Does he (the mayor) not have a right to recommend?”
“We all interviewed (all the candidates selected by the mayor),” Johnson said. “If it had been a person we didn’t interview, but we had knowledge.”
DeBerry argued the board could have accepted his recommendation and then fired the person if they didn’t work out.
“The mayor has no authority to fire,” he said.
“But you could recommend,” said Johnson. “You are trying to create a conflict between you and the board. Your team is what you inherited.”
“The mayor has no authority to hire or fire,” said DeBerry.
“You hit the nail on the head, no right to hire or fire,” Johnson said.
Alderman Nancy Hutchens spoke saying she hopes the department heads who are hired can serve continuously through one term of government into another “without having to hire the mayor’s team every four years, if the city had a new mayor.
Hutchens said the board was not given all the applicants but the ones the mayor chose.
“We (the mayor and board) sat and considered the strengths and weaknesses and chose,” she said. Numerous Attorney General’s opinions on the roles of the mayor and a board are available, but the board is not required to accept a mayor’s recommendation, she said.
DeBerry said he has been through two elections as mayor and “I did not come in and clean house.”
“To say I’m trying to clean house or to create a personal team, I haven’t done it,” he said. “The board should consider my recommendation with some strong weight. I’m saying I allowed the board to come in and be a part of the process.”
“Let me talk some,” Johnson said.
“You talk about tradition....”
“Chief Burby is the first person I hired as mayor,” DeBerry said. “There was never an interview process prior to that.”
Hutchens disagreed. The board was involved in the interview process when Smith was mayor, she said.
Alderman Naylond Hayes weighed in.
“Mayor, we’ve had two motions to hire a utility manager and a police chief and (they were) vetoed twice,” he said. “I think Rep. Buck and the citizens are concerned where do we go from tonight to get out of this stalemate.”
“I think a lot depends on whether the board sustains or overrides the veto,” DeBerry said.
“Where do we start with that, Ki (attorney Ki Jones)?” she asked.
Jones said the law is pretty clear, that once a veto by the mayor is overridden, the measure becomes law.
“As to the city chief of police position, that matter as the attorney sees it in keeping with the statutes and AG opinions is now effective. The board expected that offer to be communicated to that applicant.”
DeBerry said taking the matter before a chancery judge is also an option. Then he reiterated, he was not vetoing the board’s choice of candidate to hire but he was vetoing the process.
“I am not at the point I want to take this to court. It’s not about a power play,” DeBerry said. “It is about the fundamental respect for the position (of mayor).”
“I agree, Mayor, and as aldermen we have rights,” said Johnson. “Where do we go from here?”
After another round of advice from Jones, the mayor said he questioned whether the board’s motion to hire was proper and said it should be taken up in executive session.
Buck again pushed for a timely resolution of the matter saying another interview process would be too lengthy.
“I think we have varied opinion here,” DeBerry said.
He suggested again the board put itself in his position.
“I wonder if you question my ability to make an informed decision on my own,” he said. “I would wish the board could have some confidence in my ability to pick. If you put somebody in office I may not be able to work with, what can I do?”
Johnson said it was not a matter of trusting the mayor’s judgement; but rather the board interviewed the candidates and made their choice.
“You have a right to overrule and we have a right to override. Once it is overridden it becomes law,” Johnson said. “We are supposed to be serving the people and we are debating the process.”
Buck once again asked if the community could expect a resolution at the meeting.
Colhoun weighed in again, saying the board and mayor are all elected officials and have to serve the people.
“We have talked to our constituents and we have got to get past this question of backing of your team as you say. You’ve got five team members who do not agree (with you). We’ve got to get past this; Lord knows, we don’t want to go to court with it.”
The discussion ended with DeBerry saying that a hashing out of the issues “is good, healthy and fundamental.”
“This is not something we can’t get beyond,” he said. “It’s not my way or the highway. I am not asking the board for anything more than the board would not ask for, expect and demand.”
The board turned its attention to other business, taking up the issue before going into executive session.
At that juncture, the mayor asked to be allowed to recommend his candidate for general manager. The board voted unanimously to hire the man recommended by the mayor.
The board then went into executive session to discuss the police chief’s position. The name of the candidate who will be offered the position was announced after executive session.
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