Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department Chief Ronnie Few will not be returning to his post after a vote to reappoint him failed in city council Thursday evening.
After the council adjourned to a 19-minute executive session, it re-emerged with discussion over the Few appointment. The motion to bring the embattled department head back failed 4-2 with Mitchell Congress and Charles Jones Jr. standing as the lone votes to keep Few.
“I think it would be a travesty of justice to not reappoint Chief Few. He has been treated differently than any other department head in this city,” Congress said in defense of Few before the matter came to a vote. “He’s moved us from a regular fire department to an EMS and HazMat. We have one of the best fire departments in this area of the Black Belt. I think there has been a vendetta against Ronnie Few. He has been demeaned by members of this council. He is the only department head that has ever been demeaned in this way. And I find it racially insulting.”
The racial connotation of Congress’ remark drew the ire of Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson and Councilman Bill Meador, each of whom objected to the accusation.
“I highly resent the fact that you are calling me a racist. I have been on this council for four years,” Meador said. “I have voted a number of times to do what Chief Few has wanted to do.”
Jones chimed in with his stance that both the police department and fire department should be subject to a public safety audit, a method that would theoretically provide the city with a better idea of what it needs from the two departments.
“I’ve heard the stories. We’ve got too many firefighters. Tired of hearing the trucks move up and down the road. We’ve got too many stations,” Jones said, recounting the criticisms he and others have long heard regarding the fire department under Few’s watch.
Jones pointed to a number of those criticisms, focusing primarily on the existence of three fire stations within the city. Jones noted that wheels were already in motion to erect a third fire station within the city prior to the hiring of Few.
“He was charged with staffing the station,” Jones said plainly.
Numerous individuals in the gallery requested the opportunity to be heard. Grayson denied each request on the grounds that the meeting was a city council meeting, not a public forum.
As the debate continued, Congress once again took the floor.
“I think this vendetta against Ronnie Few should stop tonight,” Congress said before pointing his attention toward the police department by comparison. Congress cited an incident in which a young man was allegedly incarcerated at the police station and forgotten about over the course of a weekend.
“If Chief Few had locked somebody up in the fire department and forgot about him, he would have been fired that day,” Congress said.
After much deliberation, Few was given the opportunity to speak on his own behalf.
“It looks like that, perhaps now, some people have probably made up their minds to let me go. I know I’m a little bit different in the way I approach fire service. But I have always meant well for Demopolis,” Few said. “I believe in safety and giving good fire service to this city. We ran 213 calls a year when I came here. Today we run over 800 calls a year. And I tried to do it without moving the budget up. I think it is somewhat of an injustice to a person sometimes. You run the city. I’m an employee. I do exactly what y’all ask me to do. I thought that what you needed was a fire chief to do his job and do the job right. If I did anything to insult anybody because of this, then I stand by it because I wanted to make sure we had good fire service in this city and that was my only thing. I don’t deal in a lot of popularity. I’m only interested in doing what’s right.”
After Few relinquished the floor, the council brought the matter to a vote. Once the final tally was logged, Congress stormed out of the building.
“I’ll no longer be racially insulted by this council,” Congress exclaimed as he departed.
The meeting ended with the floor being opened to council discussion. Apparently pointing to the individuals whose requests to speak were denied, Councilman Harris Nelson commented, “Government is run by people that show up. I’ll leave that at that.”
Jones added his thoughts.
“This government is going to be run by an iron fist,” he said. “It looks like it is not only going to be run as bad as the previous council, it is going to be worse because it looks like a lot of things are going to come down to some 4-2 votes.”
Jones declined comment after the meeting. Grayson added his insights as to why he voted against the reappointment of Few.
“I believe that we need to take a new direction in the fire department. Contrary to what Mr. Congress said – the inaccuracies and fallacies were numerous, too numerous to take it point by point. We need to take a look at our fire department. Every department is under review. It just so happened that this is one that the department head did not get appointed. As an individual, I can honestly say, I personally like Ronnie Few. We still need to examine where this department is going,” Grayson said. “It’s budgetary, operational, organizational. Just, literally from stem to stern.”
Few’s relationship with the City of Demopolis is formally severed as of Thursday. In the interim, Senior Battalion Chief Tommy Tate will take over the operations of the department.
“As far as what would be the filling of that position, again, that’s a council decision. We need to determine what that process is going to be,” Grayson said.
Other council business conducted Thursday included the reappointment of the city’s other department heads, the official granting of permission to the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce to hold Christmas on the River from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 and the rescheduling of the next council meeting to Dec. 2.
The council is tentatively set to vote on the city budget at its next meeting as well as a water board appointment.