Macon council rejects Reichert's choice for top EMA job

The Macon City Council failed Tuesday night to approve Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s candidate to replace Johnny Wingers as the city’s Emergency Management Agency director.

The council voted 9-4 against approving Michael Smith as the new EMA director in what has been a controversial process.

Before the vote, several members of the community — including Al Tillman, president of the NAACP’s Macon chapter — spoke against the choice of Michael Smith as director. Most of the speakers said the position should be given to LaTravius Smith, the current interim EMA director.

Before the roll call vote was taken, council members spoke for and against the choice of Michael Smith, who works as an emergency training coordinator in North Carolina with a long background in emergency medical work and disaster relief.

Councilman Virgil Watkins, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, voted against Michael Smith during the committee meeting last week. Watkins said he didn’t have enough management experience for the position.

“I think we’ve somehow got to work together on this,” he said. “Honestly, my criticism of the candidate is that he didn’t have the administrative experience that’s necessary. ... With public safety, I want people there with more experience than me, that have that wisdom.”

Councilman Charles Jones said, given the city’s budget crisis, an internal candidate such as LaTravius Smith should be the one promoted to the position. He pointed to current Police Chief Mike Burns and Fire Chief Marvin Riggins as examples of two employees who rose through the ranks of their departments to assume leadership positions.

Riggins and Burns were two members of the committee that nominated Michael Smith.

Councilman Tom Ellington, one of the four yes votes on the council, said Michael Smith was being put in an untenable position no matter which way the vote fell.

Ellington laid blame for a flawed selection committee process at the feet of Reichert.

“This has been a disaster,” Ellington said. “Stakeholders like the (Bibb County) sheriff and County Commissioners have felt left out. I believe (Michael Smith) would do a credible job, but the process has been so terribly, badly mishandled.”

Councilman Erick Erickson, another yes vote, said the support among council members for LaTravius Smith could hurt her future chances in the long run.

Erickson said Michael Smith was picked unanimously by the selection committee, which interviewed five candidates among 42 nationwide applicants, and there was no reason for the council to vote against him.

Nancy White and Mike Cranford provided the other two yes votes, while council members Ed DeFore and Lauren Benedict were absent. Watkins, Jones, Alveno Ross, Miriam Paris, Larry Schlesinger, James Timley, Elaine Lucas, Lonnie Miley and Rick Hutto were the no votes.

Keith Moffett, Reichert’s director of internal affairs, said it was back to square one in finding Wingers’ replacement.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We did a nationwide search of 42 candidates. We interviewed five. (Michael Smith) was the top choice.”

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.