Overton City Council disregards OVFD bylaws, appoints paid Fire Chief
Thursday's hours-long Overton City Council meeting left citizens smoldering after its surprise decision to create a paid Fire Chief position, despite Overton Volunteer Fire Department's recent bylaw-driven leadership elections.
The recently elected Chief, Terry Lewis addressed the council during public comment with a reading of the OVFD's currently-held bylaws which specify the process by which department officials are chosen.
"I'll make this short and sweet," said Lewis. "The officers of the company shall be elected manually by ballot at the second Tuesday meeting in December and shall be determined by a majority of the members present but the election of the Chief, Fire Marshal, and Assistant Fire Marshal shall be subject to the approval of the city commissioners."
"This is our bylaws," said Lewis, slamming the document on the speaker's podium. "Y'all remember this when y'all came down and stuffed these in my face? Do you remember this, how we wasn't going by them? Y'all are not going by them now. Your Chief is supposed to be a certified firefighter. Your said person is not certified. He's only trained, he hasn't tested for Firefighter I or Firefighter II. So, y'all better think about that."
With no response to Lewis's statement council went on to approve the creation of the City's Fire Chief position. New councilman 'Tuck' Moon motioned to hire Overton resident Mickey Hamilton as paid Chief.
While the creation of city departments, committees, or offices, is a granted right of the Council, the process, per Texas Municipal Law and the City of Overton's own Code of Ordinance, the process doesn't appear to have been followed.
Per Sec. 2.02.035 Meetings and agenda, section (4) Agenda, Subsection (H) When possible, proposed ordinances and resolutions will first be placed on a workshop agenda or a regular agenda for discussion prior to being placed on a regular agenda for action. No ordinance addressing the creation of the chief's position has been the topic of a workshop or regular meeting agenda item.
Questions were also raised regarding the hiring process, as city officials never posted the position to allow qualified persons to apply.
While Texas Municipal Law doesn't require local governmental bodies to post all available positions it is a commonly followed guideline as it helps curtail claims of discriminatory hiring practices.
Hamilton's qualifications were called into question as, per the Texas Commission on Fire Protection standards to hold the Head of a Suppression Fire Department position must:
- have five (5) years of experience appointed in a fire suppression position in Texas while holding active TCFP certification as a firefighter or
- meet the equivalent out-of-state requirements or
- have 10 years of experience as an active volunteer firefighter. To be considered an "active" volunteer, you must have attended at least 40 percent of the drills and responded to at least 25 percent of the VFD's emergencies each year; additionally, the VFD must have had 10 or more active members and conducted a minimum of 48 hours of drills in a calendar year or
- have the combined total years of experience found in Texas Administrative Code §449.1.
In further Executive Session agenda business, Councilmembers nominated Gerald Dikes to fill the Council Place 3 seat vacated by Faithe Jackson soon after the canvassing of election results closed. Council also voted to approve the hiring of Casey Freeman for the City Secretary position.
Overton resident Denise Hill questioned the city's momentum on the situation with the stalled audits.
"Back in October, I believe it was, our auditor came...and basically he gave us three different options on how we could move forward and I haven't seen anything on the agenda," she said. "I just wondered if there were any updates you could share on what our plan was to get the audits taken care of."
City officials were unable to respond due to Open Meetings regulations but City Finance Director and Interim City Secretary, Connie Chasteen, did later speak on the subject. According to Chasteen, the city is in the process of engaging an outside source to weed through available information and create or obtain the documents necessary to allow the city to gain audit compliance.
Council went on to remove Laurie Kaczmarek as a signer on the Police Seizure Fund, adding Connie Chasteen and appointing Mayor Pro Tem Michael Paul Williams and Tuck Moon as official signers for other city business.
City Manager Shane West discussed his plan to use water main valves to isolate leaks in the city's main 10-inch water lines which should prevent depletion of the town's main water supply in situations like the recent First Baptist Church Family Life Center fire. Responders from New London were able to quickly truck in quantities of water to combat the blaze while salvaging the Overton water supply and avoiding a boil water notice for the city. West was also excited to hear the Council's approval on the purchase of a $30,032 pump for the WWTP lift station, using ARPA funds.