During the Sept. 22 board of mayor and aldermen meeting, Waveland Mayor Mike Smith asked for an extension to appoint a fire chief.
Back in August, the board voted to accept former Fire Chief Tony Mallini’s resignation, effective Aug. 9, and voted to move Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Carver, Jr. into the chief’s position on an interim basis for a period of 30 days.
Smith said he had hoped to appoint a new fire chief on Sept. 22, but would like to make that appointment at the first meeting in October.
The board voted to amend the agenda to discuss the extension of the fire chief appointment.
Ward 1 Alderman Jeremy Burke asked if the mayor had a timeline for advertising for the position and conducting interviews.
Smith said he plans to bring a recommendation before the board at the first meeting in October, which is on Oct. 5.
Smith said he has not advertised for the position.
“I know that there’s been talk about having a committee and talk about not having a committee so we all need to come together on that and see what we want to do about that,” Smith said. “I was in the process of putting a committee together.”
Burke said the board already discussed this matter weeks ago.
“You had a good plan, 30 days needed to make a decision,” Burke said. “Now we have one person doing two jobs, but I thought we had plenty of time to execute everything. The original plan, that everybody agreed on, wasn’t done.”
Smith said that there has been talk of “change” with regards to the original plan.
“I had already talked to people about being on the committee and was set to advertise and not everybody actually wanted to do that,” Smith said.
Ward 2 Alderman Bobby Richardson said that he is a “firm believer of promoting within.”
“I’ve never been the type to bring some people in where there may be a 20 to 25 year individual who put his time into an employer,” he said. “What kind of incentive does that give a 19-year-old employee going in?”
Ward 4 Alderman Charlie Piazza also said he believes in appointing someone in house.
“I can’t see going on the outside to bring somebody in,” he said.
Smith said that that’s the “quagmire.”
“This is my 35th year working in the city, 28 of those was in the fire service and I come up behind David Garcia,” Smith said. “He was a great chief and he kept training me the way that he was. I followed in his footsteps. That’s one of the reasons I stayed there as long as I did because I kept going through the ranks.”
Richardson said that it seems to be a “tradition” in the city of Waveland — even in the police department — to move up through the ranks.
“You’re learning as you go,” he said. “You learn every aspect of the job. My personal opinion, I think we have a man in place right now that has been really set up to do the job that he’s doing right now.”
Smith said that being a fire chief is a “very dynamic” job and is about managing the employees, ensuring that the department has the safest and up-to-date equipment, and being a media spokesperson.
“Maybe this is unfair to ask without having Shane (Ward 3 Alderman LaFontaine) here, but it sounds like half the board wants to promote from within which has been tradition,” Smith said. “So that’s why I didn’t move forward on the committee.”
Burke said that his number one problem is that several weeks ago, the board discussed and the mayor agreed to forming a committee.
“Five weeks into it, nothing like that happened,” he said. “My issue is, we said we were going to do something and then we didn’t. If we didn’t want to do it that way, we should have said, hold up, let’s go back and think about it. This has nothing to do with promoting from within. I know everybody spoke of their philosophical ways of how they want the fire department to run. To each their own. My issue is that we had a consensus of the board that it was going to be advertised, whichever way that was, and there was going to be a committee. And that’s all for naught. Obviously, it is quite evident, amongst the board members, that I am currently in the minority. Alderman LaFontaine’s not here, I don’t know where he stands on it. I’ve never discussed it with him. The only time it’s ever been discussed was in the board meeting and probably three weeks ago, I just halfheartedly asked Mike, ‘where are we at in the process?’ There was really nothing to report, so I thought it was going. You said, and we all agreed, we’re going to do this and now we’re changing what we’re going to do.”
Smith said that he did move forward with forming a committee.
“To say nothing happened is not totally correct,” Smith said. “And I was going to advertise. The committee is just sitting on the side waiting to see how this plays out. You’re right. Y’all agreed to that in that meeting, but I think that there’s been some discussion after that with some employees and they felt like it should be dealt from within.”
City attorney Malcolm Jones said that he understands the position taken of wanting to appoint from within the department.
“I would say this, we’re in a time where a lot of employment, particularly hiring department heads and that sort of thing, are highly scrutinized by sometimes outside agencies, specifically equal opportunity,” Jones said. “People claiming that you’re not taking into account racial minorities and ethnic groups. One of the things they search is whether or not you allowed people from the outside to apply for jobs.”
Smith said that he thinks it’s important to make sure that the city is doing what it’s supposed to do.
“Typically, this doesn’t happen in the middle of a term,” he said.
Jones added that these types of changes in department heads “rarely” come up.
“It’s something that you’re going to need to think about,” he said. “You want to make sure it was a very fair process, not only to the people already in the department, but others that may want to come forward that are also qualified.”
Smith said that when they talk about “outside,” he is not referring to outside like New Jersey or Chicago.
“That did happen in a department that I know of that brought somebody in from a bigger city and it worked like a snowball down south,” Smith said. “It didn’t last very long.”
Jones said that he thinks it’s a good idea to use a committee prior to decision making and ask the same set of questions for all applicants.
“Just try to be as consistent as possible, just to show that if you ever did have any kind of complaint about discrimination or unfair treatment, you have all those tools in your toolbox to show that you went through a very thorough process,” Jones said. “If it turns out that you choose somebody from within, that’s certainly fine, but if you showed that you fairly compared them to all other applicants as well.”
Smith asked the board members if they still wanted to go the route of advertising and forming a committee.
Richardson said that his mind wasn’t changed.
“I’m hard set on promoting within,” he said. “It don’t give anybody any incentive to come to Waveland if they’re never going anywhere.”
Piazza said he was “hellbent on promoting from within.”
“We know what we have, but we just don’t know what we could get,” he said. “If you go out and we hire somebody from the outside and they don’t meet our qualifications or what we expected of them, then what would we do?”
Smith said the request he was making was for more time to make his decision.
“One way or the other mayor, you need more time,” Jones said. “And so whether you advertise outside or go ahead and use a committee, that’s neither here nor there. You can make those decisions on your own.”
The board approved a motion to continue on with Carver as interim fire chief, with a chief’s salary and make it retroactive to begin the night he was appointed.
The motion passed three to zero. Alderman LaFontaine was not in attendance at the meeting.