Meridian Mayor Jimmie Smith is back to square one after the city council on Tuesday voted down a majority of his nominees for city positions.
Those rejected include Police Chief Chris Read, Parks and Recreation Director Trent Posey, Community Development Director Laura Carmichael and two other nominees.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome, but the council has the authority to do what they did,” said Smith, who took office July 1. “And we’ll just have to roll up our sleeves and do something different.”
The council's votes came after they postponed action on the nominations at a meeting on July 6.
Smith said Tuesday was Read, Carmichael and Posey’s last day with the city. The mayor said Lt. Patrick Gale will serve as interim police chief until a new chief is appointed by the council.
The council voted down Read’s nomination by a vote of 3-2. Read has served as chief since last October. Ward 1 councilman George Thomas and Ward 4 councilwoman Romande Gail Walker voted to confirm Read’s nomination, while Ward 2 councilman Dwayne Davis, Ward 3 councilman Joseph Norwood and Ward 5 councilwoman Tyeasha “Ty” Bell Lindsey voted against his nomination.
“Obviously, does it has a negative effect on me? Yes, it does,” Read told The Meridian Star on Wednesday. “But I knew that coming in, eight or nine months ago, that I’m at the will and pleasure of the mayor and I’m at the will and the pleasure of the executive and the legislative branch of this local government.”
Read said that during his tenure as chief, his department helped improve the public’s trust in law enforcement. He said that traditionally, when people encounter law enforcement, it's often for a negative reason.
“I think we’ve changed that mindset — especially within the department, changing our own mindset and start having positive encounters with the community and the public,” he said. “And that’s how we’re able to get a lot of things accomplished.”
Lindsey, of Ward 5, said she didn't vote in favor of Read’s appointment because of her constituents’ views on the police department.
“I personally do like Chief Read," she said. "But when I spoke to a lot of people in my ward in different areas, from Poplar Springs to Red Line to Willow Ridge to many different areas in the ward, they felt that we could do better."
Lindsey said some of her constituents wanted to see more enforcement of the city’s fireworks ordinance and some expressed concerns about the recent shootings in the city.
Thomas, of Ward 1, voted in favor of each of Smith’s nominees, including Read.
“I voted for all of the mayor’s appointments because it’s his team, and he needs an opportunity to have that team,” Thomas said.
Four other appointments denied
The council also rejected Ed Skipper as chief administrative officer by a vote of 3-2. Thomas and Lindsey voted in favor of Skipper’s nomination, while Walker, Norwood and Davis voted against it.
Walker wanted Skipper, a former CFO for the city, to be paid a lower salary. She said that Skipper’s salary would be $100,000, which would be higher than the previous CAO’s salary. She said there are other city employees who need a pay increase.
“We have people that are working out in the heat all day long,” she said.
Davis said that Skipper’s salary would be higher than the former CAO, and opposed the salary request because the council has already set the budget for the current fiscal year.
“I’m saddened for our city,” Skipper said after the vote. “Obviously the council has that authority to confirm or deny. With the election, I felt excited for our city that we were going to get on the right track, moving to improve … city government and the city overall.”
Skipper said he requested the salary because he was making a similar annual income from his state retirement. If he was appointed CAO, he could no longer collect state retirement, so a salary under $100,000 means that his annual income would decrease.
The council also voted against Laura Carmichael’s nomination as community development director with a vote of 4-1. Carmichael previously announced, though, that she was was planning to leave the post. Voting no were Davis, Norwood, Walker and Lindsey, and voting yes was Thomas.
The council voted 3-2 against Trent Posey’s nomination as parks and recreation director. Voting yes were Thomas and Walker, and voting no were Davis, Norwood and Lindsey.
The council voted 3-2 against Tim Miller’s nomination as fire chief. Voting yes were Lindsey and Thomas, and voting no were Davis, Norwood and Walker.
Walker said she opposed Miller's nomination because he wanted a higher salary than the previous fire chief, and she would like the chief to be an internal candidate currently in the fire department.
Lindsey said she supported Miller’s nomination because she believed that he was qualified for the position — he has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration — and because a few firefighters advocated for him, including Deputy Fire Chief Jason Collier.
Some posts approved
The council did approve a few nominations, though. With a vote of 5-0, Brandye Latimer was appointed as chief financial officer and city clerk, a position she has held since since 2018. With a vote of 5-0, the council confirmed Doug Stephen’s nomination as public safety director, a role he has held since 2018.
David M. Hodge was approved as public works director by a vote of 3-2. Voting yes were Lindsey, Walker and Thomas, and voting no were Norwood and Davis. Hodge, who will replace Hugh Smith, said he has worked as the City of Madison’s public works director and in private consulting. He has a master's degree in civil engineering from Louisiana State University.
“I’m very excited and ready to get to work,” he said.
The council also approved Dustin Markham as municipal court judge, making Markham the first African American to serve in the role. He will replace Robby Jones.
“It’s a blessing,” Markham said of his historic appointment. “I look forward to the great things that I’m going to do, the dynamic things that I’m going to do and the change that we’re going to make over there. I think city court needs to serve the citizens and also be firm as to how we handle those who choose to violate the law.”