Thursday, April 2, 2009
Talk on vacancy heats up meeting
By BARRY BURLESON
A need to fill the position of supervisor of building and grounds ignited heated discussion during the March 17 meeting of the Holly Springs mayor and board of aldermen.
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry brought the matter up after city leaders had gone through their agenda.
He said, “We’re in dire straits,” due to the arrival of grass-growing season and use of the ball fields at the park.
The job has been vacant for some time. The city advertised its availability in the latter part of last year. After going through the applications and conducting interviews, Mayor DeBerry brought two finalists before the board.
On December 2, he made a recommendation. Alderman Russell Johnson made a motion to hire the individual, which died due to the lack of a second, according to the minutes.
Alderman Nancy Hutchens then made a motion to hire the other candidate for the position. It was seconded by alderman Garrie Colhoun and passed 4-0, according to the minutes.
On December 4, the mayor vetoed the choice, and aldermen never brought up a possible override of the veto.
DeBerry, in bringing the vacancy up March 17, said aldermen had questioned his credibility to assess applicants and they do not do that when department heads fill positions within their individual departments.
“To me, that’s an insult – holding me to a different standard than my department heads,” he said. “That suggests to me that you think I’m trying to hide something.”
Earlier in the meeting fire chief Kenny Holbrook had brought eight finalists out of 44 applicants for part-time and full-time firemen positions before the board. Holbrook called them the “cream of the crop.”
“You act based on his recommendation, and the mayor is due the same type respect,” DeBerry said.
Alderman Tim Liddy said the mayor was not “comparing apples to apples.”
“It’s the same principle,” DeBerry said. “I supervise department heads, and he supervises his people.”
Liddy said when police chief Robert Pearson, city clerk Belinda McDonald and utility department manager John Collins were hired, “We all worked together and it went smoothly.”
DeBerry said the board should act as a legislative branch to pass policies and orders.
“And hire employees,” Hutchens said. “You can recommend.
“We are responsible. We’re elected. Our constituents come to us. We have an obligation to review applicants. I do not agree.”
DeBerry responded, “It’s not your responsibility to become a screening board. You’re a hiring board. The screening process is done in the executive branch of government.
“The problem I have is the different set of standards as chief executive officer (of the city).”
Hutchens countered, “I want you to hire that man, and you veto that man until you get the one you want to hire.”
DeBerry said, “You want me to hire someone you want, and then I’m responsible for overseeing him.”
Alderman Johnson said the goal should simply be consistent and fair when going through the hiring process.
“We’re mayor/aldermen form of government, not mayor/council,” Johnson said. “We do have rights.”
Liddy again said when the mayor and aldermen have worked together in the past on choosing department heads, “We’ve made good choices.”
DeBerry said again that he felt he had fewer rights in making recommendations than the department heads.
More arguing ensued between DeBerry and aldermen Hutchens and Liddy.
Evaluating the depth of the difference in opinion, DeBerry told Liddy, “You’re in Chicago; and I’m in New York.”
“It’s time to move forward,” he said. “In another month, it (the grass) will be a mess.”
DeBerry said, “Don’t do something that ties my hands and then expect me to be able to function.”
Johnson said, “Sometimes that’s the nature of the beast.”
The mayor and board then talked about the responsibilities of the job and whether or not to readvertise or find the original applications and reevaluate.
“The mistake we made is we should have approached this quicker,” Liddy said.
Johnson was against readvertising. He said the city had applicants who were qualified.
“We don’t want to lose a person while playing political ball,” he said.
It was then recommended the mayor try and find all applications, and if he couldn’t, then readvertise.
DeBerry said he would submit to the board the ones he selects as finalists and include the board in th interview process, but that he would not submit every application.
“We’ve always looked at the top bunch, and we’re not asking for anything different,” Hutchens said.
“I don’t have a problem with you going through and culling. But this board is intelligent enough to look at the cream of the crop and make a decision on who is best to fill the position.”
DeBerry said, “We differ, and that’s OK.”
In other business, the board of aldermen:
• Awarded bids on office furniture for the new police headquarters – totaling about $106,000.
• Set a public hearing for April 21 on condemnation of several dilapidated houses and other buildings.
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