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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - TIA LYONS

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.”

PUB­LIC RE­LA­TIONS

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.

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