Oakland Mayor Scott Ferguson resigns
Oakland Mayor and former pastor Scott Ferguson announced Monday that he will resign from the position he has held since 2010.
Ferguson told those at town hall that he was resigning for personal reasons regarding his family life.
His announcement comes just five days after the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen “affirmed” its removal of the town attorney, recorder and the elimination of two Human Resources positions. Board members also requested that the state perform an audit on the town’s financial records after concerns were voiced over Ferguson’s spending.
Oakland Vice Mayor Chris Goodman will assume Ferguson’s position.
Chris Patterson of the Wiseman Bray law firm in Cordova was “immediately removed” as town attorney and replaced with Richard Myers of the Apperson Crump firm in Memphis. Myers previously served as Oakland’s attorney during the administration of former mayor Bill Mullins.
Pam Walker was immediately removed as town recorder. She had also served as Oakland’s finance director.
The Human Resources positions of Director John Cox and Specialist Dustin James were immediately “dissolved” from the current budget, as well as any new positions that have been added.
Noting at Thursday night’s meeting that Patterson was handling a number of contracts for the town, Alderman Karl Chambless wondered what effect his removal would have on their success.
While acknowledging that he is not a lawyer or a contract expert, Alderman Chris Goodman said he would have to make a “strong assumption” that there would be a “transition” in any contractual environment if “something switches” from one to the other. He noted that one of the reasons the board has scheduled another special meeting at 7 p.m. March 11 is to “discuss and assure” that transition.
In response to a question by Mayor Scott Ferguson, Goodman said the purpose of affirming the removal of Patterson and the hiring of Myers was to make sure there was no “confusion” about the board’s “intent.”
When Ferguson asked why Patterson was removed, Goodman said Myers’ “hourly rate” is lower. He also said he believes the new board needs its own “identity.”
Noting that he “went out and did some research,” Goodman said he came up with Myers as a candidate for the position.
Ferguson said that, when a town attorney is selected, a contract listing his hourly rate is normally proposed to hire him. In response to a question by the mayor, Goodman acknowledged that a contract does not currently exist.
“Since we are right at a week now,” he told Ferguson, “I had hoped that there would be some communications between you and attorney Myers. I know that you’ve been sick and had some other things going on, so that may have delayed the process.”
Goodman said he would be “more than happy” to communicate and get that process going the first thing the next morning.
When Ferguson asked which board members were involved in the “selection process” for Myers, Goodman said he interviewed “a number of different attorneys.” Then, he offered the motion that all the aldermen voted on at the Feb. 21 meeting.
“I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more discussion,” he said. “But, as you know, we can’t discuss it with each other outside of the board meeting.”
Ferguson asked what other law firms were considered in the appointment of the new town attorney. Goodman said he did not have the list with him, but would be glad to submit it to the mayor.
When Ferguson asked what “form of communication” occurred between Goodman and Myers prior to the Feb. 21 meeting, the alderman said a phone conversation, and he asked the attorney questions during a face-to-face meeting.
“Would you be willing to submit those questions to my office?” the mayor asked.
“It wasn’t an organized list that was written down,” Goodman replied. “But I’ll be glad to give you my mind-set when I was talking to him, the best that I can without it being documented.”
When Ferguson asked whether there was “discussion between any two board members” regarding Patterson’s removal or Myers’ selection, Goodman said not that he is aware of. The mayor said he was asking the questions, because this was not an item on the agenda of the Feb. 21 meeting.
“It was brought up very hastily and with absolutely no discussion,” he recalled. “These are questions that really should have been asked that night, so I think they’re very appropriate tonight.”
At Thursday night’s meeting, a motion offered by Goodman that was seconded by Alderman Kelly Rector to affirm Patterson’s removal and Myers’ appointment was passed by three affirmative votes, with Chambless abstaining. While expressing “no disrespect” for either attorney, Chambless said he was “very concerned” about the way this issue was “handled.”
In response to a question by Ferguson, Goodman said the purpose of affirming the removal of Walker as town recorder and finance director was to ensure that the mayor and residents are aware of the board’s “position.”
“I felt it was very important that we be very clear on the decision that the board made,” he said. “Regardless of titles, the expectation was that position would be open in general.”
Ferguson asked what specific problems the board had with Walker as the town recorder. Goodman said part of his reasoning was a “reduction” in the town’s workforce.
“If there was a reason she couldn’t handle her position as well as Human Resources,” he said, “I felt we need to ensure to get one who can handle all those responsibilities.”
Noting that he had “a lot of trouble” requesting information from Walker, Alderman Billy Ray Morris said he does not think a board member should have to ask for it two or three times.
“I think we’re fixing to see a totally different swing in direction to this town, as far as growth,” he added. “And I just didn’t see her going with it.”
A motion by Goodman that was seconded by Morris to affirm Walker’s removal was passed by three affirmative votes, with Chambless again abstaining.
Another motion offered and seconded by Goodman and Morris to eliminate the position of finance director was passed by a 3-1 vote, with Chambless the lone dissenter.
Ferguson asked whether the board intends to employ a new finance director within the coming weeks, months or a year. Goodman assumed that the members have to “talk about it,” because it would be a budget issue.
He said his understanding is that the town’s Charter combines the recorder and finance director into one position. Ferguson said Tennessee now requires municipalities to have a certified municipal finance officer.
“Our Charter allows us to have one officer hold more than one position within the town,” the mayor noted. “And that was the case here.”
When Chambless asked who will be in charge of the town’s finances, Goodman said he believes that will be handled by the mayor and City Hall Office Manager Stephanie Parker until a new recorder can be employed.
“We are rolling multiple positions into one,” he said. “And we’ll look at hiring someone who can handle all of those.”
But Chambless said that is what Walker was doing.
“You’re releasing one person because she was doing these jobs,” he contended. “And now, you’re going to go hire somebody else to do the same jobs.”
Ferguson said that is merely a “replacement” and not a reduction in the workforce. But Goodman said it is a reduction when that person will be assuming the Human Resources responsibilities as well.
Ferguson said Section 13 of the Charter allows the board to “establish, abolish, merge or consolidate” offices, positions of employment and departments.
“So, if you say we’re reducing the force, but you’re simply going to put someone else in that position and consolidate, then why not that particular individual to consolidate those roles to begin with?” the mayor asked. “Why did that particular employee, in your view, have to be terminated?”
Goodman said there was some reason that Walker was not doing those jobs from the beginning.
When Ferguson asked what is the purpose of removing the Human Resources Department from the town government, Goodman said he was “very concerned” about Oakland’s financial position. He believes that allowing the town recorder to assume those responsibilities will save money.
Chambless asked if Goodman envisions that, at some point in the future, a new Human Resources Department will be established and a director employed to operate it. Goodman said he thinks it is something the board will have to consider after it determines the “financial direction” it is taking.
“I have nothing against Human Resources,” he noted. “Coming from the corporate world and working for a large corporation myself, I think it’s very necessary. But, again, we have to operate within our means.”
Chambless asked who will be responsible for handling the needs of the town’s employees. Noting that he has “polled” several municipalities located around Oakland, Goodman said their town recorders either have that position or handle the Human Resources, along with assistance from the mayor.
A motion offered and seconded by Goodman and Morris to affirm the elimination of the Human Resources positions was passed by a 3-1 vote, with Chambless again the lone dissenter.
About Graham Sweeney
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