Swearing In of fire chief Tony Kimbrough

Mayor Michael Whisenant administers the oath of office to Tony Kimbrough, who was recently named Fayetteville’s fire chief.

Personnel issues, including hiring an office assistant and a human resources generalist, administering the oath of office to the newly-appointed fire chief, naming an interim city administrator and determining the stipend for the interim building inspector were topics of discussion during the Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting last Tuesday.

Mayor Michael Whisenant administered the oath of office to Tony Kimbrough, who was recently named fire chief following a year-long search, during which time Police Chief Richard Howell served as interim fire chief. During the time, Howell was paid a stipend of almost 22%. A stipend is defined as a regular or fixed payment as a salary for services rendered. Now that a fire chief has been hired, Howell will no longer receive the stipend.

As acting city administrator Chief Howell announced that Monica Sumner has been hired as office assistant at city hall and will work under the direction of Administration Director Pam Gentry and Finance Director Stacey Rozell. Ashlee Fuqate has been hired as Human Resources Generalist. Gentry will be her supervisor.

Public Works Director Eddie Plunkett was named interim building inspector following the resignation of Tom Batchelor, who held the position for six months. Plunkett, who is a certified building inspector, has previously served as interim. The Sept. 9 Work Session Agenda listed a stipend of “22.1% increase” to be considered.

Alderman Dorothy Small recommended paying no more than 16%, saying that the city had paid for Plunkett to receive his certification and she felt he should receive the same amount as he had previously received when serving in this capacity.

Plunkett told the board he felt he should be treated the same as others who receive larger stipends, noting his years of service to the city and his experience. The motion to place the stipend increase on the BOMA meeting agenda was approved 4-1 with Alderman Donna Hartman voting no after supporting the 22.16% increase. Alderman Jeff Alder was absent from the meeting. The board cannot vote to allocate any funding during a work session.

During the regular BOMA meeting, Hartman made a motion to give Plunkett the 22% stipend and said, “based on his 25 years with the city, 19 as a department head, he is certified and deserves this.” Her motion didn’t receive a second.

Alderman Small made a motion to pay a 15.15% stipend, the same amount previously given “when he took over the job before.” Vice Mayor Danny Bryant seconded the motion.

During discussion, Hartman said, “I feel this is discrimination against Mr. Plunkett. Others receive 22%. There is no policy or procedure on how we decide an amount. Is it a figure or percentage pulled out of someone’s head? Previously, the city administrator determined an amount. How do we arrive at these numbers? I feel he has the qualifications and deserves more.”

The motion passed to give a 15.15% passed with a 4-1 vote, with Hartman voting no.

Later in the meeting, Howell was named interim city administrator to serve “temporarily” until a full-time administrator is hired. He will receive a stipend.

Mayor Whisenant said that Howell was named assistant city administrator several years ago and has been serving in that capacity since Scott Collin resigned several weeks ago.

The vice mayor made a motion to approve Howell as interim city administrator with “full authority of the charter and municipal codes and personal policies, at his discretion.”

Hartman reminded the board that when the Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) representative met with them, “he kept referring us back to the Charter. Section 2 states that the city administrator recommends an individual to serve as acting administrator. That was done.” When a city administrator vacates his position …  the board may appoint a qualified person” until a permanent city administrator is hired.

“I believe it would serve the city better to go back into discussion with MTAS to get an interim city administrator who has experience,” Hartman said. “This can be done within a reasonable cost to the city where we don’t have to pay insurance and benefits.”

Bryant said the charter defines in detail the responsibilities and education level of a city administrator. “What it doesn’t define, but leaves to board discretion … the board may appoint a qualified interim. Several years ago, when the board appointed the police chief as assistance city administrator, we did so at the recommendation of the city administrator based on his knowledge of what the person could do. The board ratified what the city administrator asked.”

Bryant said the board should take into consideration the kind of job Howell has been doing.

“We don’t need to keep kicking this further down the road,” Bryant said. “The MTAS man didn’t want to have anything to do with this. If we try to find someone from no telling where, that person would have to be trained and would need to know the issues. We’re dealing with a lot of issues and Chief Howell knows the issues. Chief Howell would have to train that person. This isn’t anything personal. We just need to get this office filled and move on.”

“There are city administrators who know the basic facts,” Hartman responded. “Coming in they would just need to learn the people and the issues. They have dealt with these things before. The man from MTAS said ‘refer to the Charter.’ That’s what I’m doing.”

“So did I,” Bryant said. “I feel this is just a difference of opinion and I respect everyone’s opinion 100%. This is the quickest way and the best way.”

The motion was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Hartman voting no.