The Monroe Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board is mulling six applications for board secretary after Mayor Jamie Mayo shot down the board’s attempt to hire the city fire chief’s secretary.
Mayo believed it would be a conflict of interest for Fire Chief Terry Williams’ secretary, Rebecca “Becky” Bailey, to permanently serve as the civil service board’s secretary at the same time. Bailey recently served in the position following the retirement of longtime secretary Virginia Knickerbocker.
“It is a conflict of interest,” Mayo told The Ouachita Citizen. “When Virginia Knickerbocker retired and they were to get someone immediately, they told me that they were in a bind and they asked if Becky could serve in a temporary capacity. It was supposed to be for temporary reasons.”
“She’s the chief’s secretary,” Mayo said. “You can’t do both.”
Mayo pointed out a city employee could not perform two jobs while earning a paycheck from the city.
“You can’t do work for both jobs on the clock,” he said.
Mayo also expressed concerns about some of the applicants for the job of civil service board secretary. The secretary’s job is a part-time position. Some of the applicants were retired while others had other employment and hoped to perform the civil service board’s work in their spare time.
One of the six applicants — Kathryn “Katie” Gaston — works for Central Oil & Suppy Corp., whose chief executive officer is Hardeman Cordell Sr. Cordell also is the chairman of the civil service board.
During an interview with this newspaper, Mayo described the ideal candidate for secretary as “one who is not working for the city of Monroe and also being a secretary, or one who is not working directly for one of the board members.”
Mayo also had sharp words for the civil service board, which currently does not have a secretary, resulting in a backlog of paperwork.
“Quite frankly, they’ve been dragging their feet,” Mayo said.
Cordell employee interviewed
During a special called meeting on April 30, the civil service board considered applications from Kathy Hartwell Gray, Gaston, Rhonda Schleuter, Melinda Sylvester, Beverly Stewart and Reshema Williams.
All the candidates except for Gray attended the meeting. The five applicants present for the meeting consented to being interviewed in open meeting, according to Monroe attorney Elmer Noah, who serves as the board’s legal counsel.
The civil service board spent the most time interviewing Cordell’s employee, Gaston, for the position of board secretary.
Cordell repeatedly pointed out that he had little contact with Gaston at his company. She was simply a human resource employee at his company, which employed about 250 people, according to Cordell.
Gaston has worked for Cordell since January 2016.
“How do you do that?” said Civil Service Board member Billy Wood, provoking laughs among the board members.
Pointing to Cordell, Wood said he had more questions for Gaston than any other applicant.
“The reason we’re doing this is because the mayor wouldn’t sign off on somebody he believed might be a conflict of interest,” Wood said.
Wood’s remarks indicated Gaston had been sought out for the position of board secretary. During her interview, Gaston confirmed Wood’s remarks.
“Mr. Cordell said he was looking for someone that might fill that role,” Gaston said. “He was looking at me as an HR person, who might know some people in the area. When he described the position, I said, ‘Well, to be honest, I’d be interested in applying.’”
Wood asked Gaston about her relationship to Cordell as his employee, apparently referring to the potential conflict of interest.
“You work for him, you’re on his payroll, how would you think that would play into that?” Wood said.
“As an HR person, I’m a very confidential person,” Gaston said. “This is the board. This is different from COS (Central Oil & Supply) to me.”
“If I got this position, I’m here for the board, I’m not here for him,” she added.
Later, Wood said he believed Gaston “did great.”
During his interview with The Ouachita Citizen, Mayo doubled down on his opposition to the civil service board hiring the employee of one of its members.
“When they told me of the candidates and they told me she worked for Hardeman Cordell, she should never have been presented,” Mayo said.
“Because that’s a conflict of interest. Even if he abstained, it has the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Schleuter, Stewart interviewed
Schleuter, who is retired, now works as secretary for the West Monroe Civil Service Board. She said she could work both positions.
“As you can see from my resumé, I came up in the police world,” Schleuter said. “I made my career at West Monroe police. I retired in 2007.”
Schleuter made it a point to distance herself from the controversy that mired her ex-husband, Ron Schleuter, who previously served as Monroe police chief until 2010 when Mayo placed Ron Schleuter on leave for secretly recording conversations with him and other city officials.
“I am divorced,” said Schleuter, in a reference to Ron Schleuter that caused civil service board members to chuckle.
“That won’t be a problem,” said Cordell, indicating her prior relationship would not be held against her.
Another applicant, Beverly Stewart, said she was enjoying retired life but was interested in serving as the board secretary in light of her past experience as the police chief’s secretary. Stewart served as secretary for former Monroe Police Chief Quentin Holmes.
Civil Service Board member Benjamin “Ben” Baw, who is a police officer at the department, said he used to refer to Stewart as the real “boss” at the department.
The civil service board’s questions were brief for the remaining two candidates.
During her interview, Sylvester noted how much she disliked working for former Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney, who was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor as part of a plea deal that resulted in the dismissal of 23 charges in a federal indictment.
“He (Toney) wanted to hire a convicted felon,” Sylvester said. “I told him he couldn’t do that, so he demoted me.”
During her interview, Reshema Williams said she was a human resources specialist at Monroe City Schools.
Fire chief weighs in
After the interviews were completed, Cordell said the civil service board would not make an immediate decision.
Baw pointed out Schleuter and Stewart’s experience with matters pertaining to the civil service board.
“We have two ladies with civil service experience, and the other ladies don’t,” Baw said.
Some civil service board members invited Williams, the fire chief, to offer remarks on the six applicants.
“Since you brought me up to the podium, I guess I have to render an opinion,” Williams said.
“No, you don’t,” said Assistant City Attorney Brandon Creekbaum, the city’s legal counsel.
Creekbaum shook his head over and over again.
When Williams recommended Stewart, Creekbaum shook his head vigorously.
“I think your first three applicants are you best three applicants,” Williams said. “Schleuter, Stewart, each have civil service experience.”
“She’s really sharp,” Williams added, referring to Gaston.
When the civil service board asked him to weigh in on the applicants, Creekbaum said, “I’ll sit this one out.”
After the meeting, The Ouachita Citizen asked Creekbaum whether it was a problem for Williams to opine on the board secretary applicants.
“I can’t give an opinion on that,” Creekbaum said. “They asked him to give an opinion. He gave one. It’s the board’s decision, it’s up to them to make it.”