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SC city reverses decision to hire 1st paid chief after outcry - 3/13/2019

John Marks
The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

Clover isn’t bringing on a new paid chief after all.

A lengthy Clover Town Council executive session Monday night led to a reversal of course on hiring a new chief.

“At last night’s meeting, the town council voted to change the policy directive with regard to the hiring of paid personnel at the Clover Fire Department,” said Allison Harvey, town administrator. “Specifically, the vote was to amend the funding allocation such that there would only be funds to hire two paid firefighters, not a firefighter and a chief.”

Mayor Greg Holmes said he was disappointed with the decision. By a 4-3 vote, Council decided instead to hire two paid firefighters rather than a chief and a firefighter.

“The pressure from the citizens, I do believe it weighed in on some of our decisions as council members,” Holmes said. “Budget-wise, we had enough money in the budget to cover a fire chief and a firefighter.”

Many in the Clover community, including firefighters, were upset when Charlie Love wasn’t picked as the first paid chief after more than a decade as the volunteer chief. Volunteers talked about quitting, and county leaders discussed how to keep the area covered.

Holmes supported the town administrator, who recommended hiring Billy Thompson as chief.

“We really need to look at our ordinance, what our ordinance needs to be,” Holmes said of the decision-making process. “Like always we want to get input from the citizens. I guess a combination of the citizens and us as elected officials.”

Monday’s reversal leads to questions. For one, a reporting structure needs to be established with a mix of volunteer and paid firefighters. The town will begin advertising for the two paid positions.

“That’s something we’re trying to work out now, who should a volunteer chief report to and who should paid staff report to?” Holmes said. “We’ve got some work to do on that.”

The decision to hire a chief comes as the community grows.

“We do want to expand and be able to hire more staff for our fire department,” Holmes said. “We do have a plan to hire more.”

Thompson had been set to start work in Clover earlier this month but Harvey pushed the date back awaiting Council’s direction. He never officially started working in Clover.

Thompson didn’t want to say much about the final decision.

“I’m angry,” he said. “It was a decision based purely on politics.”

Thompson’s been through this before. It happened in neighboring Bethel fire district, which serves Lake Wylie. in 2016, the Bethel tax board decided to bring on a paid chief. The board selected Thompson to take control for long-time volunteer Chief Don Love, Charlie’s brother.

Bethel volunteers protested with some, like in Clover, threatening to quit. York County Council voted to disband the tax board days before Thompson was to start citing: “the situation has escalated with threats to call law enforcement should the new, paid chief respond to the scene of a fire, to refuse to respond to emergency calls, and to refuse to acknowledge the authority of the new chief.”

Thompson never started.

“I don’t know what their motives were,” Thompson said of the Bethel and Clover decisions. “It was the same outcome.”

Fire service in the county has been studied. County leaders this month heard the case for Riverview Volunteer Fire Department paid staff becoming county employees.

The Clover Fire Department covers 44 square miles. Most of its calls come from outside town limits. The department has 24 active members and responded to 642 calls last year.

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©2019 The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)


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