Fort Smith Board split on hire-fire authority

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 198 views 

An issue that is sure to spur a heated debate at next Tuesday's (Aug. 20) regular Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting is a proposal that would give City Administrator Ray Gosack the ability to hire and fire department heads without having to get prior approval from the Board.

According to Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, the issue was first brought up during the Board's retreat to Mt. Magazine State Park in July.

Both before and after today's noon study session, Board members expressed their views on the issue, with opinions varying wildly.

• Ward 1 Director Keith Lau:
"Yes, I think it's a good thing. I think it's good governance. I think it's a, I don't look at it so much as a hire and fire as much as I do a command and control. It's a hierarchy of who's in charge and who respects the authority of who's in charge because ultimately I think if there was ever a poor fire or a poor hire that that would ultimately come under the purview of the Board."

• Ward 2 Director Andre Good:
"I am not. But I've got a lot more to say about the issue. I absolutely trust Ray and his decision, but the decision we make on this vote goes beyond Ray. What if Ray unfortunately meets an untimely demise? What happens if he chooses to leave? I think this goes much more past our trust of Ray and I have all confidence and trust in Ray."

• Ward 3 Director Mike Lorenz:
"Yes. … You know, it's an efficient governance issue to me. It has nothing to do with anything that's happened in the past. … You know, I think the CEO of any company, and this is a big company, should have the authority to hire and fire his immediate reports. There's nobody between directors, department heads and (the) city administrator. He's got direct authority. There's going to be political problems regardless of which way it's done. I feel like this takes some of this out of it. The arguments been made that we were elected to hire and fire these people. I don't agree with that. I think that the Board was elected to make policy decisions and hire a city administrator. It's his responsibility to run the business on day to day basis. It puts us in a management position that we shouldn't be in."

• Ward 4 Director George Catsavis:
"I'm not for it. … I just feel like we were elected by the people to represent them and their best interest for the city and I just think we need to have some say in the hire and fire issue. (Any of the department heads should come before the Board for hiring and firing.) Yeah, or at least go through the administrator and the administrator come through the Board. My biggest concern is there's politics always enters into this kind of issue and I just feel like this could easily get out of control."

• At-Large Position 5 Director Pam Weber:
"I think it's a good discussion to have. Well, I think with any business the CEO or President of the business has the option to hire and fire his team. I think that we have good communication with the present administrator. I think if he were going to make a change he would probably tell us before we read it. I would not be reading it in the newspaper or The City Wire. I think he's good about communicating with us and I think works on a daily basis (to uphold good communication). I do not think it's my job to tell a department head how to run their department or hire a department head. That is not my job as a director."

• At-Large Position 6 Director Kevin Settle:
"No. I am not at all. No. … I'm against it because the people voted to change this form of government and gave the directors that right 40 plus years ago and there's, it's the people's voice, it allows the people to have the majority on those decisions and by the Board giving up that right, it puts on person in charge and it doesn't allow the directors to have a say, which we should. … The way it's been proposed, he'll have final say. That's not the way it is now. Right now, he recommends and we have to give the approval or not approval, which is a check and balance. … The ordinance is done. It's gone through multiple mayors, multiple directors and it's worked great. I don't see a reason we need to make a change. I just think we take away from the people."

• At-Large Position 7 Director Philip Merry:
"I'm for it. 110%. The timing is right. As I understand it, the 15 department heads are all doing quite well. There's nothing that as I understand it that's driving towards this topic other than taking a step back, looking at the architecture of how we do our business, how we do our governance. Would you want to be the CEO of a company with 900 employees, $311 million and you can't, you have no say over the department heads situation. I've not heard of a situation where a board of directors, where a CEO of a large corporation could literally compete with the employee to the board for a certain position. Right now, in the strictest sense, you could have a department head lobby the board and if that person has 4-3, it doesn't matter what the administrator thinks that person's performance is."

In other business, the Board:
• Discussed proposed changes to residential parking ordinances, including limiting the number of cars that can park at a residence and whether or not residents could park on lawns; and
• Discussed methods to encourage residents to properly store sanitation containers on non-pick up days. Instead of taking official action, the Board has encouraged the department of sanitation to engage in an education program that would emphasize how to store containers out of site of the street.