Batesville City Board

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 10, 2011

Aldermen agree their vote trumps election of officers

By John Howell Sr.

Batesville continued to navigate through the transition from an all-volunteer fire department to a full-time paid fire department during the June 6 meeting of the mayor and aldermen.

The city hired its first full-time, paid fireman in 1996 and presently operates with 20 full-time firemen and 20 volunteers.

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Tuesday’s discussion was triggered by a pending election among firefighters to select the department’s chief, assistant chief and other officers.

“How can we have elections? City workers have elections?” Mayor Jerry Autrey asked. “It’s confusing to some of these new, full-time firemen,” Autrey continued. “They ask me, ‘I work for the city, I was hired by the city, I’m a full-time fireman and I’m fixing to be asked to vote with the volunteers on who’s going to be my boss.’”

“Did you tell them, no that that didn’t make that person their boss?” Alderman Bill Dugger asked Autrey. “They can vote and recommend it, but if we don’t choose to accept that we could … appoint who (we want),” Dugger said.

“I thought we had got this thing understood,” Alderman Ted Stewart said. “They’re city workers and city firemen and that’s it. … The buck stops with us.”

The discussion among elected officials followed Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell’s explanation about the city’s arrangement with its firemen. The volunteer department was chartered as the non-profit Batesville Area Volunteer Fire Department, Mitchell said. However, the city has no contract with the volunteer department.

Instead, the fire department is composed of paid, part-time “volunteers” and paid, full-time career firemen, Mitchell said. The part-time firemen are paid per call, he said, making them part-time city employees.

“What they’re doing then is recommending,” Dugger said during the discussion. The mayor and aldermen were unclear about whether fire department officers other than chief have been brought before the mayor and aldermen as recommendations for approval.

“Apparently, the only thing in the city minutes is the fire chief’s appointment,” the attorney said.

Dugger asked Mitchell to write a letter to firemen to clarify that the election results will be accepted as recommendations, subject to approval by the board of mayor and aldermen.

Fire Chief Tim Taylor, Assistant Chief Jackie Chapman and Captain Banks Brasell arrived at the meeting as aldermen had voted to enter executive session on other matters. The mayor adjourned the meeting following the executive sessions. In an informal conversation that followed, aldermen explained to the three firemen that they would accept the election results as recommendations from the department.