Advisory member quits over EMA hire

Staff Writer

The hiring of a new Clay County emergency management director continues to ripple through city and county politics even as new director Torrey Williams enters his second week on the job.

West Point selectmen will consider naming a replacement for former police chief Bill Gibson on the Emergency Management Agency Council after Gibson resigned from the board.

"After the political shenanigans pulled off by the City of West Point and Board of Selectmen and the Clay County Board of Supervisors regarding the hiring of the EMA Director, I am advising you that I am no longer willing to serve on the EMA Council as a representative of the City of West Point," Gibson said in an e-mail to Mayor Robbie Robinson,
"When the EMA Council's hiring recommendations were ignored, the most qualified candidate rejected, and a less-qualified candidate selected, it is clear that remaining on the council is a waste of my time," he continued.

Robinson shared the e-mail with Selectmen during a study session Monday night and the board is expected to formally accept the resignation tonight.

The board could possibly name a replacement as well.

"I don't know what their thought process was and I haven't talked to them," said Gibson, who was police chief from November 2002 to mid-2006.

"I agree 100 percent, there was no point in everyone agreeing to a procedure and the proper steps and then they just ignore them. If they aren't going to follow their own procedures and process, there's no sense in me hanging around," he continued.

"If all they care about is some politics, then I'm tired of messing with it. I haven't got time to deal with it," added Gibson, a noted dog trainer who has run Black Prairie Kennels for the last 11 years.

"Those are his personal feelings. I respect that and honor that," Robinson said of Gibson, who he described as a long-time friend.

Formation of the EMA Council started in 2015.

The group meets quarterly to discuss EMA issues related to Clay County and policies and procedures.

While it has no funding authority or hiring and firing powers, it does provide an experienced voice to support EMA initiatives.

Besides Gibson, other members are the police chief, fire chief, sheriff and county fire coordinator as well as one member appointed by the city, one by the county and one joint appointment.

Gibson was the city's appointment, former county fire coordinator Robert Parker is the county appointee and former West Point Mayor Kenny Dill is the joint appointee.

The appointees serve staggered three-year terms.
Dill also was angry with the decision to hire Torrey Williams and has been rumored to be considering resigning the EMA Council, but he had not as of Monday afternoon, according to Robinson.

Sheriff Eddie Scott serves as chairman of the EMA Council.
In late March, veteran EMA Director Kerrie Gentry-Blissard told the city and county she planned to retire with her last days at work coming in late May.

She is using accrued vacation to make her effective last day June 30.
The EMA Council, with city and county consent, decided to bring in three EMA directors from surrounding counties to interview candidates for Gentry-Blissard's replacement and make a recommendation for hiring.

Six people applied and following interviews with all six, the three outside EMA directors recommended Tracy Pharr, a regional director with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, for the position.

The trio recommended Williams be hired as her assistant.
Scott, as chairman of the EMA Council, was prepared to recommend the hiring to Selectmen at their May 8 meeting followed by approval from supervisors at their May 10 meeting. Instead, with Scott not at the meeting, supervisors opted for Williams at their meeting on May 7.

Led by Supervisors Luke Lummus and Shelton Deanes, the board said they picked Williams because he is a homegrown Clay County product, has EMA experience and was recommended for the assistant's job.

Williams lives in Clay County, did work for Oktibbeha County 911 before taking the Clay EMA job, and is chief of the Clay Unit 100 volunteer fire department.

The day after the supervisors' move, Selectmen agreed, when an effort by Selectman Keith McBrayer to name Pharr got no support.

At the time, Selectmen asked Robinson to set up a meeting with supervisors to discuss more equitable funding for the EMA operation. Currently, the city provides $70,000 of the agency's $91,000 budget.

The county's $21,000 comes from a state grant. Part of the city's money includes $5,000 to supplement county E-911 Director Treva Hodge's salary for working as assistant EMA director.
Robinson said Monday he'd not yet set up that meeting and was leaving part of the conversation "to be driven by the selectmen."
A preliminary city budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 shows reductions in EMA funding but most of that is because some "things have been paid off."

But the proposal does not include the $5,000 salary supplement.
That fact could spark discussions with supervisors.
"The $5,000 is the only thing really that's not included in the budget," the mayor said.

Part of the reduction is attributable to differences in salaries. Gentry-Blissard is making $52,500 this year. Williams is being paid $41,500 initially. Costs for benefits will be lower, accordingly.