Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Officials wrangle over fire chief selection

Staff writer

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City Manager Joe Thomas said city policy was followed correctly during the selection process for Clovis’ newly appointed Fire Chief Ron Edwards.

The hiring procedure was put in the limelight when retired fire chief Ray Westerman approached the city commission June 5, handing out copies of a report he wrote detailing what he felt were unfair procedures in the fire chief selection process.

“I felt like they needed to know in more detail the process that took place,” Westerman said. “I wanted them to be well-informed.”

Westerman claimed Thomas used a non-existent nepotism policy that led to the disqualification of three applicants vying for the fire chief position left open by Westerman’s May 19 retirement.

The policy Thomas quoted to these candidates states that if they have a relative already working for the city and are appointed fire chief, their relative would have to resign.

A portion of the city’s nepotism policy under “Common Household Relationship reads: “In the event that two current City employees within the same department, on the same division/shift establish a relationship, then one of the employees shall accept a vacancy for which she/he qualifies on alternate division/shift or a vacancy in another department, with or without loss of pay if a vacancy exists. If there is no vacancy or one of the employees chooses not to transfer, the City will terminate the less senior of the two employees, unless one of the employees resigns prior thereto.”

Westerman said the nepotism policy states that no relative of someone in a position such as fire chief may be hired; also, if already working for the city, they may not be promoted.

Westerman is referring to the nepotism policy “Employment of a Relative of the Mayor, a city commission Member, City Manager, Assistant City Manager, or Department head, which reads, in part:

“No relative...shall be hired by the City of Clovis...(or) be eligible for promotion during the term the relative holds office or position.”

“It’s not vague, or subject to interpretation,” Westerman said. “I stand behind my statement that the city manager cited a non-existent policy.”

Thomas said the policy does call for resignation.

“I don’t necessarily agree with (Westerman’s) interpretation of the policy,” Thomas said, insisting city policy states an individual would have to resign from a city job should a relative be appointed to a position such as fire chief.

“It’s just a matter of interpretation and I interpret it different than (Westerman) does,” Thomas said.

Westerman also noted that he was not present when Edwards was interviewed for the fire chief position — despite expressing a desire to be part of the interview process. Edwards’ interview was the only fire chief interview for which Westerman was not present.

“I’ve requested that the mayor (David Lansford) keep me posted, and I haven’t heard anything from him,” Westerman said concerning the possibility the issue may be raised again by the commission.

Lansford was not immediately available for comment.

Commissioner Tom Martin said he could not comment about the ordeal until after he discusses the matter with City Attorney David Richards.

Commissioner Robert Sandoval said he supports Thomas.

“As the city manager, I think (Joe Thomas’) most important job is to hire and fire people,” Sandoval said. “I am happy with the job Joe Thomas has done, and I support him 100 percent.”

Sandoval said he is unsure if the issue will be brought up again, but said Westerman is “certainly entitled to continue this.”

Thomas lauded Edwards — a former fire chief who was appointed once more to the post on May 22.

“I have complete confidence in chief Edwards,” Thomas said.

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