Trustee shows disapproval of fire official appointment process

By Benjamin Cox on January 4, 2019 at 9:12am

There is now a new South Jacksonville fire chief, but he does not have any officers.

Village Fire and Rescue Chief is Richard Evans, Jr. Appointment of officers was tabled.

At last night’s South Jacksonville Board of Trustees meeting, trustee Paula Stewart did a series of things to show her apparent disapproval of how Mayor Harry Jennings and others involved in the process seemed to have left her out of discussions leading to the confirmation of a new fire chief, new officers, and even a new Fire and Rescue member that was still hired.

Stewart first called for an executive closed session before action items to discuss items related to personnel. She then requested a individual role call for five people who are either resigning or retiring from various positions in municipal departments, including resignations of one member each from the Police / Street and Sewer Departments, and three retirements for the fire department. Keith DeFrates, Steve Waltrip, and David Hickox have all retired from the fire and rescue squad. Stewart wanted each of the names listed individually to express what she feels is a lack of transparency. Stewart openly abstained from accepting the resignations of Waltrip and Hickox, and continued this pattern of abstension through to other action items regarding the fire and rescue department. These were for the appointment of Rich Evans, Jr. as the official new fire chief and replacement of Hickox, and for the hiring of Hannah McGee.

Stewart describes her reasoning for abstension when all five other trustees voted yes.

“I abstained strictly for one reason: I was not privy to the process of getting to any of the action that was taken. I feel like I can certainly be left out of things, and that is what has happened. When I say left out, I mean our mayor makes a concerted effort to make sure that I am not privy to things of which other trustees have been informed. That is certainly his right, he has that right as mayor, but my voice is my vote.”

Stewart says why the appointment of fire department officers was not done last night.

“The officers’ vote for the fire department was tabled because of discussions in our closed session, and because that involves personnel we cannot go into details. But that also is right in line with the votes I made in regards to the fire department.”

There is definitely a reason for the abstentions, and Stewart says it’s the voters.

“When I don’t have the background information, then I cannot make an informed vote. I cannot put together what I feel is right or is wrong. The voters of South Jacksonville expect me to vote and be able to stand behind whatever decisions I make. I do not share anything in regards to personnel or closed session discussions. I should, however, be able to tell people who ask why I voted in any particular way that the process was followed and that I am comfortable with how a process is conducted. I cannot say that currently about anything that has to do with the village fire and rescue department.”

The next trustee meeting will be a committee of the whole on January 31st at 6:30 p.m.