“I wasn’t able to attend the city clerk interviews,” Councilman Kenny Womack said. “I spoke with Councilmen Jimmy Hollander, Frank Riddle, Johnny Osborn, Mayor Rusty Jessup, city clerk Rhonda Johnston and Councilman Bill Cantley sent his information by email. I spoke verbally to everyone but Bill.”
At the Jan. 7 council meeting, the council unanimously voted to hire Candace Smith, who was present at the meeting, as the new city clerk after a vote to table the issue to the work session failed in a 4-2 vote.
Cantley and Osborn voted to table the issue to the work session for further discussion; Jessup, Hollander, Riddle and Womack voted against tabling the city clerk vote and without any discussion about the candidates possible, the council voted to hire Smith.
Cantley said he received an email in late December from Jessup regarding the city clerk discussion.
“Rusty sent it to everyone on the City Council, and I replied to it by stating my wish to have further discussions,” he said. “It was the last I’d heard of anything until the council meeting. I didn’t know anything would happen before that night and was surprised to see one candidate there. I am glad we got the city clerk we did, I just don’t think procedure was followed.”
Cantley said after there was no response to his reply email to the mayor and council members, he assumed there would be further discussion.
“I am happy with our choice, but felt proper procedure would be to discuss it more because it is a big decision,” he said.
Osborn said after each interview, there were very limited discussions regarding the candidates.
“We didn’t do in-depth discussions,” he said. “I made the motion to table the vote because I felt the full council should discuss it together in a work session since not all the council members were present for the interviews. It is a very important hire, and I had not gotten information on how the city clerk hire would affect personnel changes. We had discussed hiring two candidates, one as the city clerk and one as assistant city clerk primarily over the Water Department.”
Riddle said he did not discuss the city clerk nominees with the mayor or council members.
“It was done legally,” he said. “Nothing was done underhanded in it.”
Riddle told The Daily Home that nothing illegal was done and the issue should be dropped.
He said The Daily Home “was trying to dig up dirt and barking up the wrong tree.”
Womack did not attend any of the candidate interviews. Riddle, who made the motion to hire Smith, did not attend the interviews for Tammy Hayes, Amber Mikell and Mary Nash, but did attend the interviews for Brittney Rashleigh and Smith.
Hollander said after every meeting, he spoke with the councilmen who couldn’t attend about the candidates.
“Everything that goes in a council meeting, I try to let any council member who wasn’t there know what happened,” he said.
Hollander said he spoke with councilmen who could not attend the interviews about the strong and weak points of the candidates interviewed.
“At the time Frank made the nomination, I thought we were going to have one more discussion on it,” he said. “I was prepared for more discussion at the council meeting. I didn’t know we had a majority. All I knew was I favored the motion and voted for it.”
Hollander said he favored Smith’s nomination and that was why he seconded the motion.
“I thought this (interview process) shouldn’t be public anyhow,” he said. “Discussing these people is awkward. I didn’t like the public interview process because it put candidates’ jobs in jeopardy.”
Hollander said he feels public interviews is bad for the candidates.
He said he strongly dislikes the way the law is written because some candidates might not apply for it in case they lost their job.
“It left a bad taste in my mouth the whole time,” he said.
Alabama Press Association general counsel Dennis Bailey said the Riverside City Council could have violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act when they hired the city clerk with no public discussions.
“If there was no chance for the public to see deliberation, then either the council selected a city clerk without any public or private deliberation, which would be irresponsible, or they conducted private deliberations about it, which violates the Open Meetings Act,” he said.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.