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City may face lawsuit from fire chief
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It appears a financial settlement could be pending between city officials and McMinnville Fire Chief Keith Martin – a compromise taxpayers will have to pay.
An executive session was held Tuesday night immediately following a special called session of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Executive sessions are privileged meetings between officials and city attorney Tim Pirtle regarding legal issues facing the city.
Martin has sought the legal assistance of an attorney with the firm of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel of Chattanooga. Attempts by the Southern Standard to speak with the attorney were unsuccessful.
What triggered the discontent between the city and Martin was a four-months severance pay offer by McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley if Martin would leave the job. This was viewed as a way to silence complaints coming from firefighters.
During an interview with the Southern Standard on Sept. 24, Haley stated that prior to his offer he had attended a departmental meeting at the Fire Department and was discouraged by the gripping he heard from staff.
“He (Martin) had a big meeting, a morale-building meeting supposedly,” said Haley. “I went to it and it lasted three-and-a half or four hours. Really, it was more of a gripe session than it was trying to build morale. I don’t know if what’s being done down there is effectively moving the Fire Department forward.”
Firefighters have filed a long list of complaints about new Fire Department policy at City Hall. One gripe was the request by firefighters for an ice machine, said Haley.
“They have been without an ice machine for months and months and months now. I finally said ‘get them an ice machine.’ There is no ice down there. When they go on fires and stuff they have to scurry around to find ice.”
Haley’s severence offer was for four months salary. Martin was hired April 1 and given a beginning salary of $70,179. Four months would be approximately $23,400 which would have required city board approval.
According to Alderman Mike Neal in an email dated Sept. 27, Haley may have violated Martin’s civil rights in speaking to the Standard about personnel issues and the city board may have violated the Sunshine Law on Aug. 30 by using an executive session to discuss personnel issues regarding Martin.