Ronnie Few survives termination vote, 4-2

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 7, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &045; Following an executive session during Tuesday’s specially called meeting, the city council voted not to terminate the employment of Fire Chief Ronnie Few with a 4-2 vote.

Citizens filled nearly every seat in Rooster Hall and lined the walls while awaiting the council’s decision about Few’s future in the city. Four on-duty police officers were called to serve as security during the meeting.

Councilman Jack Cooley made the first remarks about the purpose of the meeting. He began by reminding the audience that the council, including himself, voted unanimously to hire Few.

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He went on to say the meeting was not a time to ask questions of Few personally, but for &8220;me to get some questions for myself answered by the council.&8221;

In regards to public calls for the meeting to remain open for public discussion, Cooley said he disagreed.

At the request of Cooley, Public Safety Director Jeff Manuel joined the council in executive session to discuss &8220;good name and character&8221; regarding Few. Manuel confirmed Monday that he traveled to Georgia to investigate Few’s background prior to the council hiring him.

The council went into executive session at 6:02 p.m. and reconvened at 6:25 p.m.

Cooley, again, was the first to make remarks about the discussion of the council.

Councilman Woody Collins seconded the motion.

In discussion on the matter, Cooley said, &8220;To the best of my knowledge, there is no record of conviction of Chief Few of any criminal or misdemeanor, none that I am aware of.&8221;

Councilman Melvin Yelverton, who was not present at last Thursday’s meeting in which a vote was taken to hire Few, said, &8220;I have done some investigating of my own, I didn’t know about his other past (in Augusta, Ga.), but I’ve done some checking since, and I feel in my mind that this is what our department needs to move forward.&8221;

Councilmen Cooley and Collins voted in favor of terminating Few’s employment with the city. Councilmen Charles Jones, Thomas Moore and Melvin Yelverton and Mayor Cecil P. Williamson voted against the motion.

In regards to his reasoning for voting the way he did, Cooley said, &8220;My concern for taking the stand that I am taking is that in Chief Few’s prior employment there have been controversies of some sort. I’m not convinced that that controversy wouldn’t come here also. In the best interest of the city and in my judgment, I don’t think we need to take the risk.&8221;

Following the council’s decision citizens confronted council members with their concerns or appreciation for their votes. Citizens voiced their plans to pray for the City of Demopolis under the leadership of Few.

Several citizens angrily voiced their dismay with the council’s decision, some going so far as to get in the mayor’s face and tell her that she would not win re-election.

One lady heckled the mayor as a TV news reporter interviewed Williamson, telling the reporter not to believe anything the mayor says and calling Williamson &8220;a liar&8221;.

The mayor asked the reporter, &8220;What questions do you want to ask me? What do you want me to say?&8221;

Aubrey Randall, who was the fire chief in Demopolis for 36 years, was also in attendance at the meeting.

Randall said he was displeased with the council’s decision.

Randall said he hired most of the firemen at the department today, including Capts. Tommy Tate and Carl Johnson.

As Randall understands it, the reason the council did not hire Tate was because &8220;they wanted to upgrade the department.&8221;

When asked how he thinks the fire department will respond in light of this information, he said, &8220;&8220;I think the morale is going to drop.&8221;

Duane Andrews of Demopolis attended the meeting out of concern for the city.

Andrews said he appreciates Councilmen Collins and Cooley for &8220;thinking of the best interests of the City of Demopolis and listening to the public and the City of Demopolis.&8221;

For her part, Williamson told citizens she felt Few was what the fire department needs to get to a higher level.

Managing Editor Gennie Phillips contributed to this report.