Less than 18 months after the Fort Smith Board of Directors granted the City Administrator broader authority to hire and fire department heads and other key personnel, City Director and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle is acting to repeal that authority.
In August 2013 the Board voted 5-2 to reverse the city policy in place more than 45 years and shift hire and fire authority away from the Board and to the City Administrator/. The only positions not under the city administrator authority are the internal auditor and district court clerk. The Fort Smith police chief and fire chief fall under the city administrators new authority.
On Friday (Jan. 30), Settle asked Fort Smith City Clerk Sherri Gard to place an agenda item on the Boards’ Feb. 3 voting session. Placing an agenda item requires the consent of at least four Directors. Gard, operating under a city ordinance that allows her to call other Directors, attempted to contact the other Directors. According to Gard, Directors George Catsavis, André Good, Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz agreed to the agenda item. Responses were not heard from Directors Don Hutchings and Tracy Pennartz.
Directors Good, Lau and Lorenz voted for broader hire-fire authority in 2013. Directors Catsavis and Settle voted against the 2013 ordinance.
“I wasn’t a fan then, and I’m not a fan today,” Settle told The City Wire when asked why he chose to revisit the issue.
Settle also explained that he “wanted to give the new board” a chance to decide on the issue. Directors Hutchings and Pennartz were not on the Board in August 2013. Settle said there is not a particular incident or concern of an impending firing or hiring driving the action.
Settle also said he called City Administrator Ray Gosack Friday morning to inform him of the action. Gosack has not used the authority to fire a department head. City officials are in the process of hiring a new director of Parks and Recreation.
The first attempt to change the hire-fire authority was in 2009 when it was proposed by then-City Administrator Dennis Kelly.
The issue remains a sensitive political topic following an early 2008 attempt by then-City Administrator Randy Reed to fire Fort Smith Police Chief Kevin Lindsey. The resulting controversy resulted in a quasi-demonstration at a city board meeting, Reed’s resignation and the resignation of City Director Velvet Medlock. Lindsey retained his job and remains the city’s top police officer.