Charter unclear on fires

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NATCHEZ — When it comes to the City of Natchez Personnel Code, mayors past and present have their own interpretation.

The recent terminations of five city employees were unanimously decided by the Natchez Board of Aldermen, but some contest the mayor is solely responsible for hires and fires.

According to the Natchez personnel code, employees are hired for an indefinite term at the will and pleasure of “the City.” City Clerk Donnie Holloway said the term “the City” is interpreted as the mayor and the aldermen.

Email newsletter signup

Still, Former Mayor Larry “Butch” Brown, 1992-2000, said the aldermen primarily serve as the city’s legislative branch, setting policies for the executive branch, or mayor, to implement.

Because the mayor is the city’s chief executive officer, as stated in the city charter enacted in 1846, Brown concludes hires and fires are the mayor’s prerogative.

“The mayor’s office always took the lead in the function of administrative and executive operations,” Brown said.

“But I will say we always had a good consensus as a mayor and board. When you have a weak mayor, strong council, you have to keep (the aldermen) informed and give them logical, rational leadership. Consensus leadership … that’s the sign of a good leader.”

Former Mayor Hank Smith, 2000-2004, doesn’t recall firing a department head during his administration. But if he had, he agrees it was his responsibility to do so.

“(Hires and fires) is one of the few privileges that the city code affords the mayor solely,” Smith said.

“There was maybe a gentlemen’s agreement so to speak if you were talking about department heads and a courtesy was extended to the board of aldermen for approval, but it’s not absolutely necessary.”

Former Mayor Phillip C. West, 2004-2008, counters Brown and Smith’s interpretation. West admits the city’s personnel code is convoluted and conflicting, but he believes the aldermen are accountable for hires and fires.

“Hires and fires were ultimately decided by the aldermen,” West said of his administration.

“Every time someone was hired, it had to be approved by them.

“They participated in the interview process, and there was a time or two when they gave me enough votes to make my selection.”

Former City Attorney Walter Brown said while the city charter doesn’t address personnel in a sophisticated manner, “the key thing in the charter is the mayor is the chief executive officer of the city.”

Brown said personnel policies adopted during former Mayor David Armstrong’s administration, 1988-1992, allow employees dismissed by a department head to make an appeal to the mayor.

“(The employee) can appeal that to the mayor, and the mayor is the final say-so about it,” Brown said.

But in the case of department head dismissals, Brown said the aldermen make the final decision based on the mayor’s recommendation.”

“Department heads work for the mayor and the board,” Brown said.

Mayor Jake Middleton’s interpretation of the personnel code is identical to West’s — he can only recommend hires and fires to the aldermen.

However, Middleton allows department heads to hire their own staff.

“I don’t like to micromanage departments as long as (department heads) are qualified to do the job,” Middleton said.