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Silence speaks volumes at council meeting

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By Susan Sharp

Shortly after the current LaFollette City Council was elected rumblings began that it could be a difficult group to work for.

That statement could be said about nearly every elected body. However, as the months have passed the council has taken what began as speculation and given it a fair amount of credibility.

But last week’s out of the blue chastising of fire chief Gary Byrd was dreadful. I will give the council some credit for not instigating the conflict. Nonetheless it gets a failing grade for not defending a long time city employee.

Byrd’s long discussed move to name an assistant fire chief brought not only criticism from council members but drew complaints from citizens.

There were allegations of favoritism and political promises. And those were the nice assertions.

As the meeting progressed Byrd’s character was further insulted. Lonnie Hatmaker, the brother of a councilman, accused the fire chief of only hiring criminals, or at least those who acted as criminals, to work at the department. He then followed up that claim with one that eluded to the chief asking for money in exchange for giving someone a job.

 At no point did one man on that council ask for proof to back up any of those claims. Not a one of them stepped up on Byrd’s behalf. Though only moments earlier the mayor threatened to have two women removed because he didn’t like what they were saying about him, Mayor Mike Stanfield sat quietly as Byrd endured a verbal assault. A verbal assault that ended with Lonnie Hatmaker, yes, Councilman Hansford Hatmaker’s brother, saying that by outsourcing the fire department, a 40 percent savings could be seen by the city.

Now where did he get that figure from? And why did he bring it up at that meeting?

I will admit I don’t know Gary Byrd that well. However, I can say that on any occasion where a Press staff member has worked with him, Byrd has been polite, cooperative and professional.

Last week’s ambush of Byrd was disturbing. Not only because it contained unsubstantiated allegations but because a long time city employee was not defended by anyone of the city he has spent a career serving.

So is the council hard to work for?

Or does that answer depend on which city employee you ask?