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Natchez board closes public out of discussions about fire department personnel
from Staff Reports - NEWS
August 29, 2018 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – Mayor Darryl Grennell and city aldermen met in secret Tuesday about personnel matters at the Natchez Fire Department. They didn't publicly discuss the suspension of Natchez Fire Chief Aaron Wesley, but the mayor said after the meeting that complaints about Wesley are being investigated. Grennell wouldn't say what the complaints are.

In the meantime, NFD battalion leader Ventris Green is acting fire chief while Wesley is out on paid administrative leave, Grennell said.

This is the second time Wesley has been suspended as fire chief. Grennell ordered him off the job for undisclosed reasons in November 2016, but the Board of Aldermen reinstated Wesley that same month. The board that same time asked the city Civil Service Commission to look into Grennell’s grievances against Wesley, but nothing publicly came out of that since Wesley was reinstated as chief.

This most recent turmoil at the Natchez Fire Department comes as it suffers a shortage of firefighters and struggles to fill vacancies because of low pay.

City attorney Bob Latham, speaking for the mayor and aldermen Tuesday, noted the board’s closed-door meeting was to discuss NFD personnel. He declined to be more specific or say they were talking about Wesley’s suspension as fire chief.

State law allows boards to close the public out of discussions concerning personnel matters related to job performance or employees’ physical or mental health, but the state Supreme Court has ruled boards must be specific in telling observers why they can't sit in the government meetings.

“The reason given, of course, must be meaningful. It must be more than some generalized term which in reality tells the public nothing. To simply say ‘personnel matters’ or ‘litigation’ tells nothing,” the court ruled in 1989. “The reason stated must be of sufficient specificity to inform those present that there is in reality a specific, discrete matter” to discuss out of the public eye.

The Natchez mayor and Board of Aldermen violated the state open meetings law in April and May when they closed the public out of discussions about the selection of a new garbage collector, according to a decision issued earlier this month by the Mississippi Ethics Commission. The commission ruled this was an illegal reason to meet behind closed doors. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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