BY SARAH GREGORY
Members of the Greeneville Civil Service Board discussed Thursday evening proposed revisions to the Town's charter that would remove the Recorder's office and the chiefs and assistant chiefs of the Greeneville Police Department and the Greeneville Fire Department from Civil Service protection.
The board had no new items of business to consider and took no formal action apart from setting the next meeting date.
However, the charter currently requires the board to meet every month, whether there is business to be considered or not -- a requirement that may be lifted as part of proposed changes to the charter.
The state's "Sunshine Laws" prevent public officials from discussing business in private, so board members had not had an opportunity to talk with each other about the proposed changes that were discussed Tuesday in a public workshop conducted by the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Ed Kershaw, chairman of the Civil Service Board, shared his thoughts on the proposed changes with the other board members, Phil Gentry and Tim Teague, and asked for their input.
Kershaw stated his belief that the Recorder's office and the chiefs and assistant chiefs of the police and fire departments should remain under Civil Service protection.
He explained that belief by recalling the purpose behind the 1953 founding of the local civil service system -- prevention of politically motivated hiring and firing.
The proposed change to the charter would place in the hands of the city administrator the hiring and firing of the police and fire departments' chiefs and assistant chiefs and the Recorder's office.
Kershaw stated, however, that the city administrator's position, by design, is not necessarily neutral.
"He [a city administrator] still answers to the mayor and the Board of Aldermen. So, my concerns are still that, [hypothetically,] two years from now, we could get a new mayor who doesn't like [police department] Chief [Terry] Cannon, and the new mayor could say, 'city administrator, fire Cannon, fire [Greeneville Fire Department Chief Mark] Foulks, fire [Town Recorder] Carol Susong," he said.
"And I don't think -- without Civil Service -- there's anything to keep them from doing that," he added.
He also noted the suggestion he had made in Tuesday's Board of Mayor and Aldermen workshop on the proposed changes that "internal checks and balances" be developed to prevent abuse by future, corrupted mayors or aldermen, should there be any.
3 SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
Kershaw outlined what he said he perceives to be "three schools of thought." Those, he said, were:
* being "uncomfortable" with the employees in question not having complete Civil Service protection;
* being "OK" with the removal of these positions from Civil Service as long as there are internal policies that protect employees from politically motivated hiring and firing; and,
* putting "complete trust" in all future city administrators and deeming additional protective policies "unnecessary."
Kershaw said he, personally, takes the "middle ground" and can support the change as long as protections are put in place.
Gentry agreed, but noted that he would prefer to keep the Recorder's office and the chiefs and assistant chiefs of the police and fire departments under Civil Service protection.
"I'd like to keep them under Civil Service if we could, for their own protection. You never know what 10 years down the road is going to bring," he remarked.
"That's the reason there is a Civil Service Board," said Teague, who questioned the reasoning behind the proposed change.
Kershaw and T. Wood "Woody" Smith, the Civil Service Board's attorney, pointed to an explanation -- given during the Tuesday charter workshop by Pat Hardy, municipal management consultant with the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS).
Hardy said at that meeting that towns with a council/administrator form of government, such as Greeneville, tend to trend away from having a civil service system.
That trend, Hardy said Tuesday, is a result of the additional emphasis placed on professionalism and merit in the hiring and firing process under the administrator form of government.
CANNON, SUSONG COMMENT
Greeneville Police Chief Terry Cannon and Town Recorder Carol Susong were also present at the meeting and gave a few comments on the proposed charter changes.
Susong reiterated her preference for the Civil Service system, pointing to the protection it offers to the employees in her office, who handle all of the money that flows in and out of the Town.
"It's not that I don't trust the current city administrator or current mayor. I do trust them," she said. "We've changed a lot of things, and we work well together.
"Just on this particular point, we have a difference of opinion -- what Civil Service does, why it's here, and why it's important," she added, stressing that her office has no desire to "fight with" the Board of Mayor and Aldermen about the proposals.
Cannon said that he would prefer to remain under Civil Service but noted that he can see both sides of the issue.
He said he can understand the reason for the Town's administration considering the change, because, due to the more difficult process of dismissing a Civil Service employee, opportunities for personality clashes or philosophy differences to arise can get in the way of attempts at "progress."
He illustrated his point with a hypothetical situation, saying, "if someone gets elected into office and he goes in there [to his elected office] and his people [chiefs, assistant chiefs, and Recorder's office] are completely not wanting to do things the way he is, they [the Civil Service Board] wouldn't see that as political and wouldn't let them [the employees] go -- but they're trying to cut his throat every way he turns. What do you do?"
On the other hand, Cannon noted, that level of hiring and firing power could be abused by a future city administrator.
He and Susong were clear in saying that their concerns were not about potential abuse from the current City Administrator Todd Smith.
"We told him, 'We trust you,'" Cannon said, and Susong agreed,
"But," Cannon continued, "what about the next administrator who comes in here? I think, you know, Todd [Smith] is very receptive to anything you bring to him. He will listen to you."
"He will," agreed Kershaw.
"That doesn't mean the next one's going to," concluded Teague.
After a few more minutes of discussion, board members agreed to set their next meeting date for 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 14.