Ethics Questions Raised in Newton Controversy

By: Stephen Bowers Email
By: Stephen Bowers Email

The Newton Fire Department started as a volunteer organization in which staff voted for the fire chief.

That custom continued after full-time firefighters were mixed with the volunteers, pending approval of the Newton Board of Aldermen.

Buster Bounds was voted out earlier this year, and Donny Collins was selected to be chief. Two weeks ago, Bounds resigned.

The problem is Collins works at the Newton Fire Department, along with his two brothers, his cousin, and his father.

"It puts pressure on the city as well as the fire department," said Newton Mayor David Carr. "And I know it's tough on the Collins family, because they've got several employees within the fire department."

Now the Mississippi Ethics Commission is involved.

"They recommended that he not supervise his brothers in our situation," said Carr. "The board felt like they did not have enough time to study it or to take a look at it and did not want to make a rash decision, which I think was wise on that. And upon legal counsel, we felt like somebody should be put in as an interim fire chief to protect the city, as well as Donny Collins."

Now Mayor Carr is the acting fire chief until the board of aldermen makes a final decision.

Carr says a decision likely will not be made on this issue until the Jan. 5 board of aldermen meeting at the earliest. He says either way the decision goes, there are likely to be some problems.

"We don't have anybody lined up to jump in," said the mayor. "After naming him chief two weeks ago, to pull him back out, it's not a good situation. We're just sort of in limbo right now."

That's only one problem. If the town decides to keep Collins as chief there could be other issues.

"The pressure is put on the chief," Carr said.

In fact, any complaints that make it to the ethics commission about favoritism could result in fines against the fire chief.

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