El Dorado panel sets review of hiring, firing duties.
EL DORADO — The El Dorado Civil Service Commission is moving ahead with plans to meet with city officials to provide a better understanding of the scope of the commission’s duties.
Commissioners are developing a PowerPoint presentation for the El Dorado City Council and new Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer.
“I’ve visited with several City Council members and they want to understand more about the Civil Service Commission and how it works,” said Toddy Pitard, chairman of the commission.
The commission is tasked with such duties as hiring and firing the chiefs of the police and fire departments; overseeing policies of each department; and administering annual civil service exams for new hires and candidates for promotion.
Pitard said the Civil Service Commission is not typically involved in day-to-day police and fire operations — a point he said commissioners want to emphasize to city officials.
The matter stems from a recommendation by then-Mayor Frank Hash to strip the commission of its authority to hire and fire the heads of the police and fire departments.
Hash, whose second term as mayor ended Dec. 31, proposed the idea during a City Council meeting in November.
He asked council members to revoke city Ordinance 1519, which gives the El Dorado Civil Service Commission, and not the mayor, the power to appoint and remove city department heads.
The ordinance was inspired by Arkansas Act 534 of 1995. The state law gives mayors the authority to hire and fire police and fire chiefs, but it also allows city governments to delegate that authority to civil service commissions instead.
In 1995, the El Dorado City Council chose the latter option and adopted an ordinance to that effect. The ordinance was signed by then-Mayor Mike Dumas.
“When the state law passed in ’95, it put it in the mayor’s hands, unless the City Council voted for an ordinance that put it in the hands of the civil service commission,” City Attorney Henry Kinslow said.
“The first thing Mike Dumas said is, ‘I don’t want this,’ and the City Council immediately passed [Ordinance 1519],” Kinslow said.
Hash’s recommendation drew a sharp objection from Council Member Mike Rice, a former law enforcement officer, during the Nov. 8 City Council meeting.
Rice contended then that the Civil Service Commission is needed as a buffer between city officials and police and fire department heads.
He also cited potential liability issues, saying part of the Civil Service Commission’s role is to protect the police and fire chiefs.
Further, personality or political conflicts between a city official and a police or fire chief could put the respective chief at risk of losing retirement benefits if he is abruptly fired, Rice said.
The City Council did not act on Hash’s recommendation and agreed to meet later with the Civil Service Commission.
Hash also said the move would have brought El Dorado in line with other south Arkansas cities, such as Camden and Magnolia, where the power to hire and fire police and fire chiefs rests in the hands of council members and the mayor.
“There are no stats with that. I don’t know what his agenda was with that,” Pitard said.
Council Member Willie McGhee, who also opposed Hash’s recommendation, said that the City Council has input in such matters.
FIRE CHIEF’S WORK
Pitard referred to an issue that arose in 2017 when Hash asked commissioners to look into concerns about El Dorado Fire Department operations and Fire Chief Chad Mosby.
Hash had pointed to a series of articles appearing in the El Dorado News-Times regarding 2017 city budget cuts and their effect on staffing and services provided by the Fire Department. They included a March 2017 article with the headline, “Fire Department budget cuts affect city’s safety.”
Mosby later said information contained in the newspaper articles led to a misunderstanding that spread among city officials and local residents.
The articles noted a reduction in minimum staffing that was implemented as a cost-cutting measure to help meet a $1 million revenue shortfall that was projected for the city’s general fund.
After an investigation, civil service commissioners concluded that Mosby did not commit any wrongdoing that called for disciplinary action.
Hash had pressed the matter, saying the newspaper articles “created public alarm.”
“There were things that Frank Hash said Chief Mosby said, and [Mosby] didn’t,” Pitard said Nov. 7.
“If there was no Civil Service Commission, we would not have Chief Mosby with us today because they probably would have let him go. Do you agree?” Pitard asked, with several commissioners nodding their heads in agreement.
“The purpose of the Civil Service Commission is to keep politics out of it and vet these things,” he continued. “There are a lot of good candidates who won’t work for a city that is not backed by a Civil Service Commission.”
In addition to outlining the commission’s role and responsibilities to city officials, Pitard said the commissioners also want to clarify the protocol by which citizen complaints are handled for the police and fire departments.
He again referred to Hash, saying that the former mayor had sent such complaints directly to commissioners, rather than to the respective department to be addressed per the department’s complaint policy.
Pitard said he had received a complaint regarding the theft of packages that were delivered to several houses on Combs Street during the holiday season.
At least one resident took action by setting out bait packages that were targeted by thieves.
The resident relayed the information, complete with surveillance video from security cameras at his residence, to the El Dorado Police Department.
On Dec. 27, the Combs Street resident sent an email to Hash voicing his frustration and dissatisfaction with the response from a police investigator.
The resident wrote that the investigator hung up on him during a phone conversation.
“The issue was brought before us. We don’t run day-today operations for the Police Department or Fire Department,” Pitard said. “If there’s a problem, it goes to the police chief. If it’s not resolved there, then it goes to the mayor and City Council.”
Commissioner Janis Van Hook asked Police Chief Billy White about the matter.
White said citizens may file grievances by completing complaint forms that are available at the El Dorado Police Department.
The complaints are forwarded to the chief, and if any potential policy violations are identified, the matter is turned over to the department’s Internal Affairs, which is made up of two captains.
“They’re responsible for finding the facts of the complaint,” White said.
From there, the form is advanced to the department’s Efficiency Board for review.
“Then it comes back to me. Some complaints can be handled from my desk with a phone call to the complainant, and if the complainant is still not happy, then it goes to the mayor,” White continued.
If the mayor does not satisfactorily resolve the issue, the complaint moves on to the Civil Service Commission, which then works with the police chief to address the problem.
White later told a NewsTimes reporter that the Combs Street complaint is under review by Internal Affairs, which is expected to make a decision within the next few days.