SADOW: Tommy Chandler Finally Scores A Big Win

The predictable and inevitable finally came to fruition, handing Republican Bossier City Mayor Tommy Chandler a much-needed personnel win where he has had a rough go of it his first six months in office.

Facing a hostile City Council majority of a different political faction who backed the incumbent that Chandler defeated last spring, it has slowed several of his choices to lead city departments. And, in the biggest defeat of his young tenure, Chandler couldn’t get past that majority his original choice for chief administrative officer, although months later he secured his next choice.

Until now, he also was left hanging with a personnel move made almost the moment he entered office over which the Council had no authority. To the displeasure of that majority, he reassigned former chief Shane McWilliams from that role and announced his intent to nominate a new chief for Council approval, appointing Chris Estess as “substitute” chief.

Not “interim,” because McWilliams balked at the reassignment. Unlike all other high-ranking nonelective officials in Louisiana local government, public safety leaders are part of a state-defined system to which local governments must adhere, although those with a home rule charter like Bossier City have much more leeway within those boundaries. As such, when achieving a certain class, an employee cannot have his rank or salary reduced, regardless of job assignment, except for cause or at the employee’s behest. Thus, even if in a different job, until he voluntarily accepted the reclassification, he retained the rank of “chief.”

Statute clearly gave Chandler the power to reassign. The city charter and ordinance allow the mayor to appoint a police chief as by state law, which states a chief’s term lasts concurrently with the mayor’s. That permits a mayor at the beginning of his term not to retain a chief in that post as long as he adheres to civil service requirements (he also may fire a chief during a term with Council approval), and the law also permits a substitute to replace. (All this forestalls the absurdity of having to accept a predecessor’s appointee without acquiescence of the Council.)

Things became more interesting when Chandler not long after placed McWilliams on administrative leave pending an investigation into his activities, whether the motivation was to force out of the department entirely a disgruntled McWilliams. That led McWilliams to appeal to the panel charged with overseeing the city’s public safety civil service, the Fire and Police Civil Service Board.

McWilliams alleged violation of Rule XII(A)(4) that allowed for the appointing authority (Chandler) to place him under this paid leave for up to 60 days. The board on Nov. 10 voted to take up that matter at its Dec. 1 meeting, as well as to launch its own investigation into supposed political violations by Estess. But all that fizzled when district court ruled that the panel hadn’t properly informed the city of its actions regarding McWilliams, pushing the matters to the next scheduled meeting today.

Which then was canceled when McWilliams on Monday tendered his resignation – without Chandler mentioning any presumed violations of law or regulation made by McWilliams uncovered by the investigation – because even if the board had found in his favor on the leave issue, this would get him no closer to remaining as chief; Chandler had all the legal authority to keep him from that. Any desire of the board to investigate Estess also seemed to evaporate by the cancellation.

All in all, it appeared a lot of political hardball took place, and ultimately Chandler got his way – McWilliams not only out as chief, but exiting the department as well, perhaps deemed necessary to prevent seeming irreconcilable differences from festering in the department. And, unlike with his other city appointments, he won’t have to face off against the Council majority when he does make his permanent selection of chief.

That process involves conducting a test arranged through the state, where Chandler can pick among any applicant who achieves a minimum score. As long as his preferred candidate(s) can make the cutoff, he can groove that choice into the job.

With apparently only two allies out of seven on the Council – not even enough to prevent override of a veto – Chandler still will face headwinds with his agenda, but he did come out on top on this issue.

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