Mayor Joe Riley told City Council members that the council’s Public Safety Committee could not hold a special meeting Monday to discuss last minute promotions and transfers by outgoing Fire Chief Rusty Thomas. The news led City Councilman Jimmy Gallant, who had called the special meeting, to resign as chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee.
“I sat over there for five hours the night before and knew absolutely nothing,” Gallant said. “For some reason City Council can not get information. That’s immoral.”
City ordinances require at least three members of the committee to request an emergency meeting, but only Gallant made the decision on the committee meeting.
After Gallant left the meeting, Riley all but called the meeting a circus.
“This shouldn’t be a public relations feeding frenzy,” he said. “This must be about making progress in the City of Charleston and with this fire department.”
No member of council has the ability to rescind promotions, Riley said, and Gallant’s threat last week to withhold raises tied to promotions may worry fire chief applicants.
“This is not the way to run a government,” Riley said. “It’s patently and unequivocally ridiculous.”
The promotions process includes an oral exam and an interview with a panel. Riley said that Chief Thomas exercised no discretion in selecting those promoted. Delaying the promotions wouldn’t have been fair or practical, Riley said, so it was decided the promotions would go ahead on a probationary period.
“We have fires to fight,” Riley said.
Gallant has been frustrated over the council’s lack of involvement in resolving concerns over the fire department since at least last fall.
“I take the blame for the part I did not do,” Gallant said Monday. “Maybe there was something I could have done two years ago, and I missed the mark. I’m going to have to answer to God about that one day.”
Council members told the mayor that residents are concerned about transparency and openness.
“This is one of the most sensitive and delicate situations we’ve seen in 12 years,” said Councilman James Lewis. “We just need a little more cooperation from the mayor’s office.”
Riley said promotions and hiring are his responsibility, not the council’s.
“That’s the way government works,” he said.
Fire Department Engineer Brian Rivers said Chief Thomas retaliated against him by forcing him to transfer.
“Unfortunately the truth is lacking here,” he told the council. Stay cool. Support City Paper. City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.
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