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Williams declines offer to be fire chief

CALM BEFORE THE STORM – During a special called meeting of the Humboldt Board of Mayor and Aldermen, potential new fire chief, John Williams, declined to accept the board’s offer. During some heated discussion, Mayor Marvin Sikes thought it would be better to walk out of the meeting than to continue sparring with Alderman Leon McNeal.

Mayor walks out of meeting after heated words

by DANNY WADE  |  Senior Editor

*See updates for the latest information regarding the fire chief hire


After months and months of waiting to name a new fire chief, Humboldt citizens will have to wait a little longer. During a special called meeting on Wednesday, April 5, the Humboldt Board of Mayor and Aldermen could not come to a consensus to renegotiate the offer made to John Williams.

Weeks ago, the board voted to hire Williams as fire chief of the Humboldt Fire Department. But when the board agreed on what to offer Williams, he countered with requests of his own. The board turned down Williams’ request so he countered again with a reduced list of requests.

Wednesday, the board’s first action was to take the tabled agenda item off the table, to discuss and vote for fire chief John Williams. Once the board went through the formalities, Mayor Marvin Sikes opened the floor for discussion.

Alderman Leon McNeal spoke first. He said the board had already voted to hire Williams and the board agreed on what to offer him. McNeal suggested that the mayor give Williams the documentation the board approved and ask him for an “up or down vote—yay or nay and be through with it.”  McNeal said if Williams rejects the board’s offer, move on to the next candidate, which would be HFD Captain Greg Lencioni.

Alderman Shane Lynch said he spoke with Williams earlier in the day and got some clarification. One of the things Lynch said they discussed was if the board would accept his time he worked for the Milan Fire Department, which in turn would give more vacation and sick time. Williams also asked for insurance on day one.

McNeal asked Mayor Sikes when the city offers new employees insurance. Sikes replied insurance is offered after six months. Sikes told the board that they have contracts with the insurance company and all employees are under the same contract.

Lynch then said that he left a job in Memphis to come to Humboldt and took a huge pay cut but for him, peace of mind is better than more pay. He then noted that the board had agreed on what would be offered to Williams.

Alderwoman Julie Jones-Coleman asked if anyone had contacted Williams to see if he would accept the board’s final offer.

Attorney Randy Camp said he and the mayor made an offer to Williams and Williams made a counter offer. Camp said anytime you make a final offer and they counter, that means they rejected the first offer. Camp stated that when he and Mayor Sikes spoke with Williams, they told Williams this is all the board will offer.

Lynch then read excerpts from Williams’ counter offer. It read that if the city can accept negotiations the following terms, Williams would accept the offer. It was noted that Williams’ requests came after the board had already made their final offer.

Mayor Sikes said the document Lynch was reading from was Williams’ response in which he had five items he was requesting in order to accept the position of fire chief. Sikes said the entire board rejected all five and Williams was notified of the board’s decision.

Williams sent a second document with less requests. Lynch read parts of this request, which included Williams requesting insurance from day one, but not family coverage. Williams said he would remain firm on his salary request to stay competitive with his current position with Milan FD. He also asked for recognition for his years of service as a fireman and will accept the two weeks of vacation. At the time of his one-year anniversary, Williams asked for his previous years of service be recognized and receive four weeks of vacation.

Mayor Sikes said after hearing Alderman Lynch read Williams’ request, it was fairly clear what he is asking for.

Lynch offered his opinion on Williams’ requests and said if the board does not meet those requests, he will not accept the job.

Jones-Coleman agreed with Lynch, especially with language regarding the salary where Williams said he would remain firm.

McNeal still wanted to hear directly from Williams—whether he accepts or rejects the board’s proposal.

That is when Jones-Coleman suggested calling Williams to get a definite answer.

Lynch asked attorney Camp for his opinion of Williams’ letter as a rejection of the board’s offer. Before Camp could respond, McNeal once said the board cannot do that since he has been offered the job and Williams has not responded.

Alderwoman Tammie Porter disagreed with McNeal and said Williams stated he will remain firm on salary.

Alderman Monte Johnson said it was still not clear whether Williams said yes or no to the offer.

McNeal wanted to know if anyone let Williams know that the salary of $65,000 the board offered would be close to the $70,000 he is requesting with a three, four or five-percent raise the employees will get in the next budget in July.

Camp’s reply was Williams’ offer is for $70,000 day one and not after he gets a cost of living raise. Camp said his opinion was that the board received Williams’ response on March 25 in his second request list.

McNeal then referred to a text Mayor Sikes sent out to the board regarding all of the proceedings over the past months to hire a fire chief.

Lynch then read the mayor’s text to the board out loud. In the text, Mayor Sikes told the board that he contacted Williams and he was no longer part of the process of hiring a fire chief. He said the action was taken away from him when the board rejected his candidate and the board took over. Sikes asked the board to reach out to Williams, but be mindful of the Sunshine Law. Sikes wished the board the best as they make their decision and he is sure the board will come up with a chief. Lynch continued reading the text that said this has taken a toll on the mayor, the employees and the city hall staff. The text ended saying that when trust and disrespect are lost, the city is going in the wrong direction.

After Lynch read the text, Mayor Sikes said that was as good as he could be. Sikes said he was truthful. He said it was always on the minds of the city’s wonderful firefighters, as he motioned toward the group of firefighters attending the meeting.

Sikes said he is totally in agreement with what ever the board’s decision is regarding hiring a fire chief.

McNeal still wanted to know why the mayor did not send Williams the board’s response, but instead sent out the text.

Mayor Sikes laid it out in his response. The mayor said to McNeal that he had been so disrespectful to him and to the board by calling the mayor a hypocrite.

Lynch broke in and told the mayor and McNeal to put all that aside. Lynch said that was a personal issue. McNeal interrupted once again, while Mayor Sikes responded that McNeal keeps “banging” him on things. Both the mayor and McNeal were talking over each other when Lynch broke up the squabble, again saying to take the personal issues somewhere else and not a city board meeting.

At that point of the meeting, Mayor Sikes packed up his things and walked out of the meeting.

The board continued with discussion. Attorney Camp advised the board that if this was their final offer, there needs to be public record by a vote from the city board.

Jones-Coleman stated that Williams did not accept their offer.

Johnson said he would like to see on record that Williams did not accept the board’s final offer.

John Williams

Lynch said he has Williams’ phone number and asked attorney Camp if that was legal. Camp said the board could indeed call him pertaining to hiring.

Jones-Coleman said she asked the same thing earlier in the meeting.

Lynch then called Williams and told him they were in the middle of a city board meeting. He asked Williams if he was okay with the call as it would be put on speaker for everyone to hear.

Lynch then told Williams the offer the board first submitted was their final offer, and the board would like an answer, yay or nay.

Williams said he respectfully declined the offer, but appreciated the offer.

With that, the board moved forward to the next candidate, Capt. Lencioni. But before that, Camp suggested the board have a motion and vote to accept Williams’ refusal of the final offer.

Lynch made the motion and Johnson seconded. McNeal, who is vice mayor, called for the vote, which was unanimous to accept William’s declining the offer.

McNeal suggested Lencioni’s hiring be on the next board meeting. McNeal said there should be no negotiation with Lencioni since he is already on the Humboldt Fire Department. The other board members disagreed and said there would be negotiations.

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