At the Town of Jonesboro Board of Alderman meeting held last Tuesday, Councilman Pete Stringer stated that he believed that Brandon Brown should be immediately relieved of his duties as Jonesboro Fire Chief. Mayor Leslie Thompson followed by stating that the decision was his and he would not make any moves until the due process of the judicial system had taken its course.
Following an investigation that began last August and is still ongoing by the Louisiana State Police Insurance Fraud and Auto Theft Unit, Brown was arrested on January 4th on charges of insurance fraud, and malfeasance of office. This stemmed from an accident last year involving two Town of Jonesboro Fire Department vehicles, one of which Brown’s juvenile son was stated to be driving.
Now Stringer is saying that according to the Town of Jonesboro Book of Ordinances the statement made by Mayor Thompson, regarding him having absolute authority to fire, hire and/or suspend the Fire Chief, is erroneous.
“According to Article 2 of Ordinance 274, it is not the Mayor who has the final say so in situations like this but the governing body of the Town and members of the fire department after a public hearing has been held,” says Stringer.
Stringer also made clear that his recommendation is nothing personal against Chief Brown but having Brown removed from his duties is simply following the guidelines of the Ordinance and in the best interest of the town.
“I have nothing against Chief Brown personally,” says Stringer. “I think prior to this he has served the town well since he became Fire Chief and I hate that we are having to have these discussions now. I just don’t see how at this point he can continue to be Chief and command the respect and confidence of those in the department, which is required according to the guidelines of the Ordinance.”
The actual language of Ordinance 274, Article 2 states: The Chief shall be appointed by the members of the department for an indefinite period of time and his tenure of office shall depend upon his good conduct and efficiency. The Chief shall be technically qualified by training and experience and shall have the ability to command men and hold their respect and confidence. He shall be removed only for just cause and after a public hearing before the governing body of the Town and members of the fire department.
Upon learning of Councilman Stingers objections, Mayor Thompson issued the following statement.
I admonished Councilman Aaron Stringer at the town’s regular scheduled meeting on January 11, 2022 that his motion to terminate Chief Brown was not only ill-regular but in my opinion, unlawful. It’s improper to make a motion that requires a second and a vote on a matter that is outside of the scope of council’s authority as prescribed by the Lawrason Act; the rule of law, which governs our municipality.
Councilman Stringer stated that he wanted his position known to the public. You do that by simply making a statement for the record.
Now it appears as though Councilman Stringer has researched the archives and found the ordinance that
originally created the Fire Department in an effort to justify his recommendation to terminate the Chief or at least to secure the vote of Council to do so. Lawrason Act governs the town. (As the La. Constitution governs our state). Town ordinances are adopted by town council but can’t usurp the Lawrason rules and state statutes. (Just as our parish can’t adopt laws that are not in step with our state laws).
Article 1 of this ordinance referred to by Councilman Stringer states: that the Fire Department shall consist of a Chief, three assistant Chiefs and other officers as the Chief and his assistants may deem necessary for the effective operation of the department. The reality is that it has been more than 20 years since this
requirement was applicable.
Article 2 states that the Chief shall be appointed by members of the department for an indefinite period of time and his tenure of office shall depend upon his good conduct and efficiency. If this article was still applicable Councilman Stringer would be held in contempt for violating it because of the role that he played in confirming the Mayor’s recommendation to appoint the Chief in 2019.
Article 2 also states that: He shall be removed only for just cause and after a public hearing before the governing body of the town and members of the Fire Department. I can’t explain why over 30 years ago the Council would have required a public hearing for removal of a chief from office. Neither can I explain why there would have been a need for the presence of the embers of the Fire Department.
Article 3 states that the Chief shall be held accountable to the Mayor only and shall make written and verbal reports thereto as the Mayor may require. This language is very clear to me as to who the Chief responds and would be ultimately answerable to.
However, I stand by present day Lawrason Act rules and regulations by which I am sworn to follow. R.S. 33:404 (A)(1) states that the mayor has the additional powers, duties and responsibilities: To supervise and direct the administration and operation of all departments, offices, and agencies, other than a police department with an elected Chief of Police, in conformity with ordinances and law: however, no ordinance may limit the authority granted to the Mayor by this provision. An administrative staff are subordinate to the Mayor. Mayor’s authority to hire and fire includes the power to suspend, according to (Bourgere vs Anzelmo, App 5 Cir.1988, 517 So.2d 1121)
I would suggest that Alderman Stringer take the time to re-familiarize himself with the powers of the Board of Aldermen as prescribed by the Lawrason Act. The duties can be found in R.S. 33:362(A)(1) and states that outside of R.S. 33:404 (A)(3), board does not have authority to hire, five, or discipline municipal
employees or to review termination of municipal employees made by the Mayor. (AGO )12-0056).
I think it is unfortunate that we are so quick to judge and to utilize our authority to hurt and to condemn our fellowman. If you are ever falsely accused of an act of something that you have not done, you will understand why my reaction and response will always lean toward compassion and will always embrace the judicial principle of innocent until proven guilty.