During its regular monthly meeting last Thursday, newly elected Alderman Steven McLain made motions to relieve City Manager Mike Housewright of his power to hire and fire.
McLain made a separate motion to replace MCPD Chief Grady White with Officer Kenny Lunsford Sr.
Both motions were seconded and enthusiastically supported by Alderman Jim Gilliam. McLain and Gilliam, along with Pat Stillwell, joined the BMA following victories in the November election.
Both motions were withdrawn at the request of Mayor Chris Jones, however, who suggested that a workshop should be scheduled in January to discuss both issues.
“This new board has a lot of decisions it has to make, and that’s the reason a lot of this stuff needs to go to workshop,” Jones said. “We need to sit down and figure out which direction we want the town to go.”
Jones added, “It’s a new board, and it might be a new direction. At the same time, we all need to be able to walk out of here and be friends.”
Changing the city manager’s powers
Gilliam supported McLain’s motion to cut the city manager’s hiring/firing power, pointing to recent hires in the post office and library which he said weren’t advertised, thus depriving local residents of an opportunity to fill those slots.
“The ‘old buddy’ system that’s been going on in this town is going to stop one way or another,” Gilliam said. “Every time you turn around, there’s a new guy in town, and you ask where he’s from. ‘I’m from Church Hill.’ Was the job posted in the paper? No. You just go out here and hire whoever the heck you want to. These people who live in Mount Carmel, we’re not good enough to work in your town.”
Vice Mayor Jennifer Williams noted, however, that the BMA hired Housewright to make those decisions and manage personnel.
“I have a real problem with that because you’re cutting him off at the knees, as far as him being able to do his job,” Williams said. “We hired him to do a job and brought him in here with the understanding that he was to manage this municipality. Now we’re trying to say he can’t manage the municipality.”
Housewright told the BMA he’s the right person to make personnel decisions because he’s in City Hall overseeing operations on a daily basis, he knows what’s needed and he’s held accountable for his decisions.
Housewright added that he gives department heads the ability to assemble their teams.
“It’s not a ‘old boy’ system,” Housewright said. “I’m a professional.”
Jones noted that’s he’s been asking for a workshop for months to establish a direction for the town. With three new aldermen on the board, Jones said now is the perfect time for such a workshop.
“It is the board’s choice on how much power he (the city manager) has each time there’s an election,” Jones added.
Williams said, “You don’t want to keep changing your form of government without giving it a chance to succeed. They’re trying to build teams and departments that will function very well. To cut people off at the knees when they’re trying to move this town in a progressive way is unbelievable to me.”
Gilliam said Housewright isn’t making sound decisions.
“That’s your opinion,” Williams replied.
Changing the police chief?
McLain also made a motion to appoint Officer Ken Lunsford Sr. as chief, keep recently hired Assistant Chief Ken Lunsford Jr. in that position and demote Chief Grady White to sergeant.
He said his motive for the proposed change is to alleviate a nepotism issue arising from Lunsford Jr., a former Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office deputy, being hired as assistant chief while his father is a patrolman.
Under McLain’s proposal, Lunsford Sr. and Lunsford Jr. would both report to the city manager.
City Attorney John Pevy noted that McLain’s motion was out of order because the city manager still makes personnel decisions.
“The policy states no employee can be the direct supervisor of a relative,” Pevy said. “We don’t currently have that issue because, as it was explained to me, Patrolman Lunsford Sr. reports directly to the chief, so he doesn’t report to a direct family member.”
McLain agreed to withdraw his motion so the issue can be discussed at the workshop.
As of Wednesday, the workshop date hadn’t been set, but it will take place prior to the regular monthly BMA meeting on Jan. 24.