Council to schedule meeting with civil service commission
Members of the El Dorado City Council took no action Thursday on a recommendation by Mayor Frank Hash to revoke a city ordinance that grants a city commission authority to hire and remove the police and fire chiefs.
Instead, council members agreed to schedule a meeting with the El Dorado Civil Service Commission to gain a better understanding of the scope of the commission’s duties.
City officials also agreed that Mayor-elect Veronica Smith-Creer and newly elected Council Member Paul Choate should be in on the discussions.
“The sooner the better,” said ECSC Chairman Toddy Pitard as council members considered a date for the meeting.
Hash proposed the revocation of city Ordinance 1519, which was based on a Arkansas Act 534 of 1995, and gave mayors the power to appoint and remove city department heads.
Act 534 also allows city councils to delegate to civil service commissions the authority to appoint and remove police and fire chiefs.
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.
City Attorney Henry Kinslow explained Thursday that Act 534 was a result of a lobby to the state legislature by the city of Pine Bluff.
“Unless the city council passed an ordinance like we did, the mayor would
have authority over the chiefs,” Kinslow said.
Hash said that though the authority to the civil service commission is allowable by law, he has discussed the matter with various city officials around the state and has found that the practice is uncommon in some other cities, including those in the Golden Triangle.
“In Magnolia and Camden, that power is still under the city council and mayor … You still need council approval to fire or hire the police or fire chief,” Hash said.
Council Member Mike Rice, a former law enforcement officer, sharply objected to stripping hiring-firing power from the civil service commission.
“Why right now, just before Mrs. Creer is coming into office? Does it have to be done right now?” Rice asked.
Rice said the civil service commission is needed as a buffer between city officials and police and fire department heads.
He cited potential liability issues, saying part of the civil service commission’s role is to protect the police and fire chiefs.
Further, he said 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 or she is abruptly fired.
Council Member Willie McGhee agreed, adding, “It’s so there’s no
political football with the police and the fire departments. We still have input, though.”
Hash said the civil service commission is responsible for administering annual civil service exams and overseeing policies for each department.
“You don’t have to do it at all. I was trying to make it consistent with our sister cities, but if it’s going to raise blood pressures, we can just drop it,” the mayor said. “Strike it from the record, please.”
Later, McGhee broached the issue again and suggested that the council meet with civil service commissioners.
“Maybe we can meet as a body and discuss any concerns, questions and suggestions. Before we disband something, I’d like to have a discussion,” McGhee said.
Hash reiterated that his recommendation purposed consistency with other cities.
“This in no way impugns the civil service commission,” he said, adding that the matter should be revisited after the first of the year when Creer and Choate are sworn into office.
Council Member Vance Williamson insisted that the council go ahead and meet with the civil service commission before the end of 2018 and invite Creer and Choate, “so we all can be on the same page.”
Several commissioners who were in the audience agreed.