The process of hiring a permanent fire chief for Hartsville’s Volunteer Fire Department will begin all over again after the County Commission narrowly rejected the appointment of Ken Buckmaster during Monday night’s meeting.

Commissioners voted 10-9 to reject the mayor’s selection of Buckmaster after a lengthy debate that included comments from several members of the community.

Those voting no were Gary Claridy, Coy Dickey, Bill Fergusson, Jerry Ford, Landon Gulley, Richard Harsh, Rachel Jones, David Nollner, Amber Russell and Gary Walsh.

Buckmaster abstained from the vote and told The Vidette after the meeting that he would not reapply for the position.

Some commissioners expressed concerns over the hiring process, especially after it came to light that two of the interviewers had been listed as personal references on Buckmaster’s application. The interview panel was chosen by the state’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

“I think (MTAS) did a great job on the interview process,” said Commissioner Gary Walsh. “I think there should have been a bunch more into the process.”

“The process was flawed; that’s the problem,” added Bill Fergusson.

Five citizens spoke to commissioners on the nomination, with three against and two supporting.

Larry Miller cited what he called a “very disturbing” video of a house fire back in December. That video was from the body cam of a sheriff’s deputy.

“Watching the video I saw absolutely no evidence of any leadership, or anyone being in command, in my opinion,” he said. “The citizens of this county deserve better than what we have right now.”

Bryan King criticized the hiring process itself, saying, “The minimum qualifications put forth for the applicants was, in my mind, a bar set too low.”

King also critiqued not using the résumés in the interview process, adding, “That to me is a failure in the process.”

Bill Hunt said the fire chief was among the “five most important people in this county to its citizens” but called the fire department “deficient” in its training and leadership.

“We deserve the most highly trained and qualified individual to be our fire chief,” Hunt said.

Scott Olds, who is a current volunteer firefighter, and former fire chief Jimmy Anthony each spoke in favor of Buckmaster.

“He cares about citizens, cares about safety of property, cares about getting us home safe,” Olds said.

“We have an applicant that has the best interests of the community at heart… is knowledgeable… He is the fire department’s choice to be chief,” said Anthony, who served as fire chief for 28 years before retiring two years ago.

Other votes

Commissioners also passed the county’s budget and tax levies on first reading after one change.

Commissioner Gulley asked that the money for a 2.5% raise for county employees be pooled and divided equally among those employees. According to the mayor’s office, that would be roughly $113,000 divided among 119 employees, or roughly a 44-cent per hour raise per employee.

The request came after some Public Works employees raised concerns at last week’s Budget & Finance Committee meeting regarding what they considered as low pay.

County Mayor Stephen Chambers said he had met with some of those employees and was willing to reexamine the idea of raising pay later in the year, once tax revenue figures were a bit clearer.

“I understand… and agree with what we’re trying to do. I’m afraid we’re too far into the budget process to do this,” said Commission Chairman Dwight Jewell. “We’ve told the employees they’re getting a 2.5% raise. Now we’re going to tell some that you’re not getting 2.5%…”

The amendment passed on a show of hands by an 11-9 margin. The tax levies were set at $2.4388 in the county and $0.8753 in the Urban Services District. Both are unchanged from last year.

Second and third votes on the budget will be held at the Commission’s June meeting.

Commissioners approved two zoning changes to properties on Hawkins Branch Road and Hilltop Drive on second reading, and on first reading a change on a home on Broadway to residential.

An amended zoning ordinance requiring a buffer strip between commercial/industrial construction and neighboring properties was also approved on first reading and will come back in June for a public hearing.

A capital outlay note of $1,049,170 for a new roof at Jim Satterfield Middle School was approved, as were four budget amendments, all interfund transfers:

  • $53,982 in cleanup entries in the general fund;
  • $47,000 for a workhouse truck for the sheriff’s department;
  • $8,674 in cleanup entries at Solid Waste; and
  • $30,850 in cleanup entries at the Highway Department.

Jewell was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board of Zoning Appeals, and six notaries were approved: Jacquelyn Hooge, Dondra Bray, Bennie Oldham, Shelby Lee, Joanne Turnbow and Stephanie Dennis.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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