Fire Chief Controversy

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As Tim Miller waited for the council to vote on his promotion to fire chief, Ward 4 Councilman Jesse Palmer challenged the appointment announced Monday by Mayor John Robert Smith.

"We have a majority (black population) in this community. There's seven department heads, and I for one, think we deserve more than one person in the decision-making process. We have to look at the demographics of it and I ask many people if the situation was reversed, how would you feel?" said Palmer.

One of the five finalists for the job was battalion chief Anthony J. Clayton, who is black. He was promoted to his present post one year ago.

Councilman Dr. George Thomas responded to Palmer's statement about the promotion for the fire chief's position.

"That's one of the most bigoted statements I've ever heard before this council," said Thomas. "You vote for people based on their qualifications. You don't vote for them on their height, their weight or their hair or the color of their eyes. Whether they're black or white is totally irrelevant."

"If the situation was reversed, what would you expect?" asked Palmer.
Seven department heads and only one black. Now justify that."

Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubose is the black department head. Mayor Smith said race was not the reason for his selection.

"This city has its first African American police chief. He wasn't chosen because of the color of his skin. He was chosen because of his qualifications. Don't take that away from Benny Dubose," Smith said.

"When you boil it down, the better qualified candidate was not selected," Palmer said.

Miller has had 21 years in the fire department, seven of those as a battalion chief. The council then sustained his appointment on a 4-0 vote. Palmer voted present.