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Rhome officials question service on fire department, council

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, January 11, 2014

On Thursday night, Rhome City Council discussed ways to change an ordinance regarding whether or not someone can volunteer for both city council and the fire department at the same time. Although no action was taken on the item, council was close to making a motion that, if passed, would have forced Mayor Chris Moore and council member Michelle Pittman to choose between serving on the council or the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department.

“It is too much a conflict of interest to help run the city and be on the fire department,” said council member Ronnie Moore.

“I’ll resign from the fire department tonight if you do this,” Moore said.

Current city law says only a fire chief can’t serve on council or as mayor. Options posed included forbidding anyone from serving on both, limiting the number of elected officials that can serve as members of the fire department and/or preventing them from voting on actions that affect the fire department.

“We’ve set a precedent where this has been OK for many, many years,” Pittman said. “I wonder why everything is different now when it’s been this way for 20 years.”

Moore has served as council member and mayor for several years all while being assistant fire department chief.

“I was on the fire department and the council for 13 years,” echoed former council member David Wilson.

The fire department has had low membership numbers for the past couple of years, which resulted in late to no response on several daytime calls. The council took some steps to increase membership, and Pittman joined as a volunteer firefighter herself last year to help bolster protection. The fire department currently has eight members.

“I don’t understand why you’d do anything that could reduce the number of firefighters,” Pittman said. “You better put fire department response on the next agenda if you pass this because we won’t have enough.”

According to Texas law, a conflict of interest only arises if an involved party receives 15 percent or more of their income from it, said city attorney Walt Leonard. In this case, neither volunteer fire department members or elected city officials earn any income for their efforts.

Council members Jo Ann Wilson, Charles Pennington and Ronnie Moore all leaned toward some kind of change to the current ordinance. But they eventually agreed to take no action and discuss it further at an upcoming workshop. No date was set for the workshop, but it’s expected to be on a Friday or Saturday night sometime in the next couple of months.

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