Mayor, city officials clash

CHESTER — One city councilman expressed dissatisfaction during Monday’s council meeting after an executive session was called with two councilmen excluded from that discussion.

Councilman Mike Dotson voiced disapproval of a brief executive session called by Mayor Larry Forsythe, which was held to discuss city employees to which no action had been taken, but was held without Dotson or fellow councilman Steve Shuman.

Dotson also serves as a part-time employee for the city, while Shuman is the city’s full-time street superintendent.

Forsythe had stated, prior to entering into executive session, that because Dotson and Shuman were city employees, they would have to recuse themselves from the meeting and from voting.

Dotson considered the motion illegal, to which Forsythe responded “I’m running the meeting.”

Dotson based his point on a discussion the city had with the state ethics commission in 2015 regarding employees who work in the city and serve on council. It was said then that as long as the city had more than five employees, the councilman/city employee would be able to cast the vote unless it directly affects his particular department.

“It says here that we’re allowed to vote on any business that affects more than five employees, so he was going to discuss the city of Chester’s employees, which is more than five,” Dotson said. “So we were allowed to be (there), according to the ethics commission, March 2015. April (Raines, solicitor) already researched that.”

Meanwhile, Forsythe raised questions over whether City Clerk Marlene Fleming can make a recommendation for a new assistant city clerk, who will succeed outgoing assistant clerk Carol Farish as she is set to retire later this week.

Fleming provided an update on the search, in which she stated 15 applications were received to the clerk’s office — advertised on the website, the bulletin board, and the local newspaper. Of the 15 who applied, according to Fleming, four were selected for interviews, then narrowed to two after two took themselves out of consideration.

Fleming said one of the four interview choices did not wish to take a part-time position, while the other turned down the position because she had the most experience of all selected. This now leaves two candidates, to which Fleming was scheduled to interview Tuesday.

She said she would then present her recommendation to city council, to which a vote would be taken.

Forsythe questioned whether Fleming could make the recommendation, with Fleming stating she could. She explained that — after speaking with Raines, who was absent from Monday’s meeting — the assistant city clerk would answer directly to the city clerk and thus Fleming would get to make the pick for the vacant position.

“By our ordinances and by our city charter, this job reports to me, I make the decision and council approves it,” Fleming said.

Seeming not to agree with the explanation, Forsythe said he would have to get a legal opinion on the matter and addressed council on the situation.

“That’s just a piece of the municipal ethics that you can go in there, and it’s not exactly what we are doing,” Forsythe said. “It just gives you reference to other municipalities that has gone through similar situations. Anytime you work for a city, if you’re an employee and you’re on council … just think about it. How does that work?”

Fleming attempted to explain her situation based on the city charter, but was cut off by Forsythe, as he stated he wasn’t asking Fleming, but rather council, which prompted Shuman to tell Forsythe, “Talk to her with a little bit more respect.”