(Clover, S.C.) — The Clover Town Council reversed a decision last month to hire the town’s first paid fire chief, after some expressed concern the job wasn’t offered to department’s long time volunteer chief.
In a four-to-three vote March 11, the council decided to rescind an offer to Billy Thompson to become the first paid chief of the Clover Fire Department.
The town will now move forward with a plan to hire two paid firefighters, who will report to longtime volunteer Chief Charlie Love, rather than hiring one paid firefighter and a paid chief, as originally planned.
The move comes, after a number of volunteer Clover firefighters threatened to quit because Love was not offered the paid position.
The council members who voted in favor of the decision included Chris Farris, Teresa Beatty Hurst, Amy Moses and Wes Spurrier. While Mayor Greg Holmes and members Todd Blanton and Debbie Williams voted against the move.
While addressing the public during the town hall meeting, Holmes said he could not support overturning the decision, because of problems within the fire department.
“We have problems, let’s not try to sweep things under the rug when we know that we have the facts,” he said.
“We do have some personnel issues that need to be resolved,” said Holmes. “Everybody is aware, some of the folks that are in the crowd that called me, you are aware.”
Some of those problems, according to a statement prepared by Blanton, include hiring practices at the department and a lack of participation during fire calls. For example, Blanton said, 14 of the 21 most recent calls the department responded to included 20 percent or less of the volunteer firefighting staff.
Clover resident Martha Bratton said some council members may have voted to rescind the original decision, because they’re afraid of being voted out when the next election arrives.
“The council members were stirred in a direction of being threatened at a certain point and when I say threatened, I mean ‘I’m not going to vote for you if you do this,’” said Bratton. “In any position that you hold when you are making decisions, I think you have to have morals and values and you need to do what’s right.”
Blanton told those at the town hall meeting that he felt threatened.
“I’ve been threatened and I’ve been threatened that people were going to vote me out,” said Blanton. “For me, I have to make the right business decision for me. Whether it means someone is going to vote for me or not vote for me.”
James Woodbury, another Clover resident, said he was shocked the decision was overturned.
“I couldn’t believe it, because of all of the hard work and research that had been done over an eight to nine month period,” said Woodbury. “How can you change your mind that quickly?”
Blanton’s statement detailed the town’s process to find a paid fire chief, which included several meetings and workshops.
The initial hiring of Thompson was made by Town Administrator Allison Harvey, who is responsible for the hiring and termination of all town employees.
Bratton said she is concerned about a lack of support for Harvey as the town administrator.
“She should have had more support in her position,” said Bratton. “If they want to change the authority that the town administrator has, then they should go through the proper channels, versus trying to come in and threaten her or bully her into changing her decisions.
“There is somewhere written in black and white that she can make these decisions; that it’s totally up to her for the final decisions,” she said. “I don’t think anyone should be able to just personally come in and change that if it hasn’t been changed in black and white.”
However, council member Spurrier told residents at the meeting that Harvey did what she was supposed to do.
“Our administrator did act in accordance with how she was directed per town council,” said Spurrier. “She was tasked with hiring a chief and she did so. Whether you agree or disagree with her choice, she did her job.”
As the meeting came to a close, Blanton said the vote now brings more confusion to the situation.
“It gets real confused now if we move to (hire) the two firefighters,” said Blanton. “Does the fire department go under the council like it was before? Is the town administrator the volunteer boss like it shows now in the town ordinance?
“In my opinion, tonight’s vote has not been well thought out or well planned,” he said. “It opens up a lot more questions.”