Perry shakes up structure in public safety, public works

PERRY -- The City Council shook up its city structure Tuesday with a series of measures, in a regular meeting in which the fiscal 2013 budget also was approved.

The council voted unanimously to eliminate the public safety director position, create separate fire and police departments, appoint a fire chief, name an interim manager of the police department and “defund” the public works director’s position for this fiscal year.

“It was needed and necessary,” Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said of the changes. “We made a determination that it would be the most effective way to run our city going forward.”

The city’s $24 million budget also was approved unanimously, though it did not reflect the decisions the council made Monday. Those amendments and reorganizations will be available by early next week, said City Manager Lee Gilmour.

“That money will be absorbed back into the general fund,” Faircloth said. He said a portion will be used to fund a couple of part-time positions and a new police chief.

Given the council’s decision to not fund the public works director’s job in the coming fiscal year, Director Ronnie Jones has accepted a two-month severance package. He worked for the city five years and earned an annual salary of $79,000.

Faircloth insisted the public works position has not been abolished. It may be re-funded when the city determines city projects require a leader, he said.

“The responsibility of getting the job done has not changed,” Faircloth said. “The supervisors in that department will report to another department head or Mr. Gilmour, but the job will continue to get done.”

George Potter, the now-former director of public safety, retired Thursday. The council decided his position was no longer necessary.

The City Council created the public safety director position in 2006 and appointed Potter to oversee problems in the fire department and unite the public safety divisions, Lee said.

Potter's salary was $98,896.

“Those issues have long since been resolved,” Faircloth said. “Council has determined that we no longer needed a director of public safety. In doing that, we have to create individual departments of fire and police.”

Joel Gray was named the chief of the re-formed Perry Fire Department.

Gray was recruited from Florida about three years ago to become the deputy fire chief, the position he now leaves for chief.

“All this time, it never occurred to me that I was calling you the wrong thing,” Faircloth said. “You’ve always been Chief Gray to me, but now it works.”

Gray's current salary is $66,213. According to budget documents, the new salary will be between $62,700 and $88,900. Capt. William Phelps was named the interim manager of the re-formed Perry Police Department. Faircloth said the police chief position will be posted. Lee said no time frame has been set in selecting the police chief.

The mayor said the police chief position was not extended to Phelps because the department has another captain, Heath Dykes, who has also taken on leadership roles in Potter’s absence.

“We thought to be fair, we’d open it up,” he said.

Those at the meeting wished Potter well, recognizing him for his 16 years of service to the city and his steadfastness in organizing the building of the new George A. Potter Perry Public Safety Training Facility.

“Your hand prints are all over the fire and police departments and for good reason,” Faircloth told him.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.