A discussion concerning the right of an elected city official to also serve as a member of the volunteer fire department heated up at the Rhome City Council meeting Thursday night.
Last November the council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing members of the city council and the mayor to serve on the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department. The only stipulation was that the chief could not serve as a council member or mayor.
That resolution was brought into question Thursday.
“This is not to run anybody off the fire department, but I’m gonna say the dirty words: conflict of interest,” said council member Ronnie Moore. “It’s fine to go and fight fires as a volunteer, but you shouldn’t be here making decisions.”
Mayor Chris Moore and city council member Michelle Pittman both serve on the city’s volunteer fire department.
“There very well could be a possibility of a conflict of interest,” said council member Louis Godfrey. “You have to ask yourself if you can honestly vote against the entity, the fire department you are volunteering for, in a negative way if you have to.”
“If you want to volunteer on the fire department, that’s fine, but I don’t think you should be able to hold office,” council member Charles Pennington said.
Mayor Moore countered that volunteer members of the fire department have served on the council for years with no problems. He gave examples of other elected officials serving on local fire departments, including the mayor of West.
“I don’t know why we have to address this,” Moore said. “I don’t know of any city around that doesn’t allow council members or the mayor to serve on the fire department.
“If someone wanted to run for office and be on the fire department, I don’t see an issue with that. If it becomes an issue, then we can deal with it. But it never has. And I’ve been doing this for seven years.”
City attorney Walt Leonard said the council needs to be careful if it’s considering passing any type of ordinance that prevents council members from volunteering for an organization.
Although several council members leaned in favor of changing the November 2012 ordinance, no action was taken. Instead, the council decided to hold a workshop to figure out how to increase participation and volunteerism in the fire department.