Effort to reappoint fire chief fails

Fred Moore, pastor of Christian Chapel Baptist Church, approached the Demopolis City Council Tuesday as the representative of a delegation displeased with the entity’s Nov. 15 decision to not reappoint former fire chief Ronnie Few.

Moore’s discussion with the council ultimately led to a motion from Charles Jones Jr. to reappoint Few to the head of the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department. That motion failed 4-2 with Jones and Mitchell Congress as its lone supporters. The final tally mimicked the vote count from the controversial Nov. 15 decision.

The vote came after a lengthy and occasionally heated discourse between members of the council.

“The government, the city council, the mayor, was elected by the people to serve the people, to be the voice of the people,” Moore told the council in his opening remarks. “We have a need. We have a concern.”

Moore expressed the delegation’s displeasure over what it believed to be a lack of an evaluative method in place for determining whether or not Few should have retained his position for another four years.

“The mayor indicated, and correct me if I am wrong mayor, is that one of the reasons Chief Few was not reappointed is that you did not trust him and he did not trust you,” Moore said in the first of many statements on the evening that drew a vocal response from dozens of the more than 100 people gathered at Rooster Hall for the meeting. “The people want to know why he was not reappointed. Maybe there is information that people are not privileged to. I would like to know, along with those who stand with me, what were the reasons for not appointing him? We would like this council and the mayor to reconsider their position and to reappoint Ronnie Few as chief of Demopolis.”

Following Moore’s comments, Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson provided his reasons for voting against the reappointment of Ronnie Few.

“The police chief, the fire chief, the city clerk, the city judge, they all serve at the pleasure of the county. Chief Few was not appointed Nov. 15 by a 4-2 vote,” Grayson said. “In 2008, we had a deadlock on Chief Few getting appointed. In 2008, I switched my vote at that point in time, which resulted in a 4-2 vote in favor of Few getting appointed. Over the last four years, I’ve determined that the department needs a new direction.”

Grayson then turned his attention to what he called a lack of financial management on the part of Few, an accusation he backed with concrete numbers. Grayson said Few was exceeded the fire department’s budget by $49,269 in 2008, by $16,638 in 2009, by $34,920 in 2010 and by $45,363 in 2011.

Grayson then began to cite the way in which Few managed the department as a point of emphasis in his decision to vote against the former DFRD chief.

“Apparently he failed to understand that the fire chief, as well as every department head, reports solely to the mayor, not to the councilmen,” Grayson said. “Also, there was a failure to abide by the duties of the fire chief. My understanding is that he is yet to attend a fire event.”

Grayson went on to say that Few mishandled a fire investigation as well as failed to develop an understanding of the location of certain city streets.

“There was a recent fire, recent being within the last 30 days. He did attempt to go to this fire, did not know where the street was and had to call back three times for directions to that,” Grayson said. “These are the items that affected my decision. That is my long-winded answer to your question there.”

Congress then took an adversarial stance against Grayson’s position when responding to the mayor’s comments.

“Everything you noted mayor, you never said to us. There was no evaluation instrument. If he was over budget, it was by your permission, by you signing it,” Congress said. “Chief Few did his job as fire chief. I don’t think any department head that we have is on the scene every time somebody in the department goes out and does something.”

First-term councilman Harris Nelson then took the floor, addressing why he voted against the reappointment of the fire chief.

“Frankly, whether we like it or not, Chief Few is a controversial figure in this town,” Nelson said. “I’ve had people come to me over the past few weeks that were very happy with the decision I made. I’ve had some that were not happy with the decision I made. The fire chief should never be this controversial of a position. I’m very happy with the decision I made. If you don’t like it, years from now you can vote me out. That’s what democracy is all about.”

Jones then read over various aspects of the same job description that Grayson cited in his public assessment of Few’s performance just minutes earlier. Jones observed that the job description never explicitly states the fire chief must be in attendance at fire calls.

“I had to deal with him for four years and I had my own evaluation. I had my own issues with him,” Councilman Bill Meador said when asked by Moore about the nature of his vote.

The final councilman to chime in on the matter was first-term representative Cleveland Cole.

“I think we’ve had a lot of problems that have been brought over from the past. I think we’re dealing with things that Demopolis should never have been put in position to deal with. I think it is turning us against each other,” Cole said. “I did a lot of praying on this. I think it’s just a big mess. I’m doing what I think is right in my heart for the city. You might not all agree with me, but I think my decision is for the overall good of the city.”

As the discussion continued, Congress took exception to Nelson’s stance and questioned how he and Cole could vote against Few.

“We have other department heads that are controversial figures. It’s not our job to say whether or not somebody likes somebody. Our job is to say whether or not they’re doing their job,” Congress said. “How can you fire somebody that you don’t even know? This has been a six-year ongoing vendetta to get rid of Ronnie Few.”

Congress then called into question the status of Tommy Tate as interim chief.

“It’s my understanding that when a department head is not reappointed, the council names an interim chief,” Congress said. “Did the council vote Mr. Tommy Tate interim fire chief that night? I called the League of Municipalities and they told me that until we appoint an interim fire chief, Chief Few serves as chief. I have no problem with Tommy Tate as interim chief. But I think there should have been action taken by this council.”

“Ronnie Few’s appointment ended with the city on Nov. 15. Period,” Grayson said.