Pending another vote next week, the City Council may start a new search for Decatur Youth Services director after its top candidate turned the city down a second and third time last week.
Mayor Tab Bowling reported to the council after Monday’s work session that renewed negotiations with chosen candidate Richard Collie failed on two separate occasions.
At the request of Councilman Chuck Ard, the City Council will vote on a tabled resolution to promote Programs Supervisor Lemzel Johnson to director. However, that vote will likely fail if a council member favoring Collie does not cast a vote for Johnson.
Council President Paige Bibbee and Councilmen Billy Jackson and Charles Kirby supported Collie over Johnson as the initial selection to replace Bruce Jones, who retired as director Jan. 31.
“We missed out on a great opportunity to hire Mr. Collie because he has a great story that relates well to our kids,” Jackson said.
Collie accepted the job in March, but then turned it down the following day after his employer, Athens State University, gave him an $8,000 raise to $63,173 to stay as coordinator of student inclusion.
Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin offered Collie $72,000 in the first negotiation with raises to $76,000 by the end of his first year and would not budge on her offer. The advertised annual pay range was $70,854 to $107,812.
Councilwoman Kristi Hill, who was absent Monday, proposed a resolution last week to promote Johnson to director, but it was tabled when the council majority voted for the mayor to try a second negotiation with Collie.
Ard told the council on Monday he wants the vote on Hill’s resolution “to show Johnson where he stands.” Ard added afterward that the City Council “needs to quit doing the jobs of the professionals we hire.”
Bibbee said after the meeting she thinks holding a vote would be “insensitive to Mr. Johnson” considering the way this process has played out.
Bibbee said she remains hopeful the city can find a candidate to handle the administration of this department created to help at-risk youth while Johnson would continue as lead programs supervisor. She said, however, that the controversy surrounding the hiring process could scare off potential candidates.
Bowling said he, Sandlin and Personnel Director Harold Gilmore held the second negotiation on May 5. Jackson, who requested the previous night to sit in and monitor the talks, was not in attendance.
Jackson, council liaison to DYS, expressed anger that Bowling had not included him in the discussion with Collie, and that the mayor did not return Jackson's calls early on the morning of the discussions with Collie.
City Attorney Herman Marks said the council voted to have Bowling lead the interviews.
“It was his choice on who to include in negotiations,” Marks insisted.
Jackson pushed Marks for legal precedent for this opinion, but Marks didn’t supply more than an opinion that it was the mayor’s choice.
Jackson said the mayor’s choice of participants in the negotiation while not allowing the DYS council liaison to attend “is beyond explanation unless the intent is not to present the candidate with an acceptable offer. Mr. Collie would have been the lowest-paid director by far.”
Sandlin on Wednesday said the city's lowest-paid director is Wanda Tyler, who was hired in October to manage the landfill. She makes $90,699 annually, Sandlin said.
Kirby said he left last week’s meeting thinking the council had agreed that Jackson would sit in and observe the negotiation.
Jackson proposed a resolution to allow him to observe while Ard proposed a resolution against Jackson attending the negotiations. Bibbee ignored both resolutions when Marks said it was the mayor’s choice.
“There was a complete lack of trust between the mayor and council,” Kirby said. “Mr. Jackson should have been invited to the negotiations.”
Bowling said Personnel Board attorney Richard Lehr advised him through Sandlin that he shouldn’t allow Jackson to attend.
“I know without a doubt we did what the council charged us to do in the negotiations,” Bowling said.
The mayor said they increased the initial offer by 2.8% to $74,000, plus $8,000 in moving expenses, with possible raises up to $78,000 by the end of the first year. Collie increased his counteroffer from the first negotiations to the second by $5,000 to $90,000, Bowling said.
Bowling said they discussed the job and had a different idea of what it would be.
“He (Collie) said he views the position as it’s not an 8-to-5 job,” Bowling said. “He sees it more like a pastor’s role in which there would be a lot of after-hour work. He was locked in at $90,000; I thanked him for his interest in the city and wished him well.”
Bowling said Collie called him last Thursday and asked if they could try again. The mayor said Collie dropped his request to $85,000, while the city offer increased by another 2.7% to $76,000, with raises in the first year increasing his annual pay to $80,000.
“Mr. Collie thanked us for his time and asked if he could discuss the offer with his family,” Bowling said. “He called us back on Friday and declined the offer.”
Bibbee complained Monday that Bowling never presented the council with a “formal written offer” to Collie for it to approve.
“He basically made the decision for us,” Bibbee said.
Kirby has backed Bibbee and Jackson so far, but he said he will have to think about his vote for next week.
“A new pool of candidates could help the process,” Kirby said.