Members of the Gallatin City Council often have to make difficult decisions that will affect the city’s future and the lives of its residents.
One of those responsibilities is the hiring of department heads, which last week involved an important vote to determine who would be the next fire chief for the city.
Despite having “an incredible pool of talent” to choose from, city leaders failed to reach a consensus on three candidates following an embarrassing public discussion that concluded with an unsuccessful vote on an individual who was never even interviewed for the job.
Six finalists were interviewed late last month after a group of 41 people applied for the job of fire chief earlier this year. The candidates included current and former fire chiefs and assistant fire chiefs from across Tennessee as well as from Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
As part of the city’s hiring process, an expert panel was assembled to help assist with the search. The group, which included fire chiefs from Brentwood, La Vergne and Franklin as well as the city manager of Goodlettsville, then recommended three top candidates for the position once all of the interviews were completed.
However, instead of discussing the merits of each candidate prior to their vote last week, city leaders chose only to ask about salary requirements and if each one was willing to relocate to the city if hired.
More time was unfortunately spent instead on bickering about the city’s hiring process (which has been in place for several years) and about nominating an additional candidate – interim Gallatin Fire Chief Tracy Townsend – who was never interviewed during the search because officials said he did not meet the minimum requirements outlined in the job description.
The candidates who took their time to apply and go through the interview process, as well as the expert panel who helped assist the city with the search, deserved much more consideration and discussion than they received during the meeting.
The council was also again warned by City Attorney Susan High-McAuley last week that the city could potentially be sued if a candidate was hired despite not meeting the minimum qualifications specified for the job. She added that it would also destroy the city’s hiring policy and “really undermines every department in the city when we are making hiring decisions.”
While the council does not have a say in the hiring of employees beyond department heads, we believe that every person should be held to the same standard in city government regardless of their position.
Why have any policies if you’re going to pick and choose which ones to follow and which ones to ignore?
Officials ultimately voted on two candidates who were recommended by the panel before taking a vote on Townsend, who was nominated for the position during the meeting. After each of the individuals failed to receive the five votes needed for the job, the city council chose to end the discussion and move on to the next item on the agenda.
A resident who spoke during public comment later in the meeting said it was embarrassing to watch as officials were unable to decide on who to hire as the city’s next fire chief after nearly an hour of discussion. We agree.
We also agree with another individual who emailed the council after watching the meeting and wrote that he hoped small town politics would not reign supreme over “doing the right thing.”
If the Gallatin City Council wants the power to hire and fire department heads such as the fire chief, officials need to be willing to make tough decisions and be thorough and fair to everyone involved, all while acting in a manner that is more becoming of a growing city with more than 40,000 residents.
If that choice is too difficult, maybe it’s time to change the process and let someone else make the important employment decisions for the city.
The Main Street Media of Tennessee editorial board in Sumner County is comprised of Publisher Dave Gould, Editor Sherry Mitchell and reporters Tena Lee and Josh Cross.