Firefighters' protest scrutinized
By Jordan Cooke, Staff Reporter
Selma — Ten of the town's volunteer firefighters will be in the hot seat Wednesday for their part in a protest last week over the future of their department.
Town Manager Stan Farmer said the demonstration occurred at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the home of Mayor Charles Hester, who lives on Griswold Street. Farmer said the 10 firefighters, along with former mayor and veteran fireman Joe Moore, dumped their gear in the mayor's driveway to protest the decision to add the position of fire chief to the town's payroll.
"We're none too happy with this immature and unprofessional behavior," said Farmer, who plans to meet Wednesday with fire officials and council members to decide the firefighters' fates.
Farmer said he suspects the firefighters are "still sensitive" about his predecessors' decision in 2004 to enforce an ordinance stating that the fire department is a town entity, not a private enterprise.
"Our town code says specifically that firefighters are considered town employees," Farmer said. "And it also says in black and white that the town manager shall appoint the fire chief."
The proposed budget for fiscal 2007-08 includes money for a full-time fire chief, a position Farmer said the
Town Council had hoped to add last July. Budget constraints prevented the addition for fiscal 2006-07, he said.
"But we can afford it this year, because the way the budget is worked, out we'll still be spending less overall with the new position than we did the previous year without it," he noted.
On Monday, Chief Joe Price declined to comment on last week's incident.
Thursday's protest at Hester's home marks the second time in two years that firefighters have made such a public display of their frustration. Alvin Heath, who took part in last week's demonstration, was charged in 2005 with damaging property at the home of former mayor Harry Blackley.
Police reported at the time that Heath kicked in a storm door at the ex-mayor's home, causing about $50 in damage. Court records show the case was dismissed in February 2006.
Heath kept his job as a fire fighter. It's unclear whether he and the others will do so this time around.
Councilwoman Debbie Johnson said all 10 firefighters had been suspended pending the outcome of Wednesday's meeting. "It is really frustrating to me that it seems like we have an ongoing disagreement with the way things need to be handled in that department," she said. "I don't agree with the way they handled things, but at the same time, we're willing to listen to them."
"I think the lines of communication have been opened," Johnson added. "So we'll see what they have to say, and hopefully we can resolve this whole dispute in one way or another."
For something interesting on the Selma Fire Department and the town council about two years ago, see the minutes of a council meeting. Things are not much different with bad attitudes being exhibited by some members of that department, apparently. This needs to stop and stop right now.
It will be interesting to see if there are any public comments on the situation at the open forum portion of the town council meeting.