Jones out as WM business relations director
Felony conviction halts plans to put former DHS deputy in new position
A media and legal firestorm erupted with the impromptu announcement by West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon of Steve Jones as the first Director of Business and Community Relations. The Jones announcement represented the latest in a series of controversial human resources decisions by the first term mayor. McClendon told city council in the work session before the Oct. 24 council meeting that Jones got the nod. He extended the courtesy of the Jones announcement to aldermen a day before the scheduled media announcement.
Then, during the public meeting, City Council Member Lorraine Mohammed urged the mayor to make the announcement to the gallery and the local cable channel viewers.
The mayor did so, but Jones’ background check confirming his felony conviction for accepting bribes as the Deputy Director of Arkansas Department of Human Services had not even returned to city human resources department for review. The decision caught the city attorney by surprise, but media outlets had already been invited to the official announcement.
The controversy then took root when the mayor made the official announcement on Oct. 25 as media outlets in Jonesboro, Little Rock and Memphis vetted Jones, with many citing Arkansas Code Title 25 Subchapter 11, which disqualifies felons from holding positions as public servants. Next, City Attorney Mike Stephenson called for an Oct.
25 meeting with the mayor over Jones’s ineligibility for the job.
The Arkansas Municipal League also rendered advice against hiring Jones.
McClendon said in an exclusive interview Nov. 4 that the official relationship between Jones and the city had been shelved.
“I don’t want to break the law,” said McClendon. “He is not with the city in any official capacity.”
Jones has been seen frequenting city hall. The Mayor said Jones still had his ear.
“Right now, he is not with the city, but he is advising me just as a friend,” said McClendon. “He will be in the house. He is with me. We still need to see how we can get him legally involved.”
Section 3 of the statute for public servant qualifications dealt with expungements or pardons. Jones would have to successfully navigate those requirements. Taking that path may also bring controversy to the city and its relationship with Jones.
“Right now, and for a week or so we’ve found out some things based on the law to get him involved,” said McClendon.
“I want to make sure I am in compliance with the law, so he is still on hold. He is still with me.”
McClendon confirmed that Jones was not on the city payroll despite the official job announcement.
The director’s position had been budgeted for $53,000 per year.
While McClendon ex- plored options to make Jones eligible, other candidates for the job remain on hold. Eighteen candidates applied for the new position. Hiring an ineligible felon could expose the city to lawsuits from applicants meeting hiring requirements.
Councilwoman Lorraine Mohammed’s request to the mayor to make the Jones announcement ahead of schedule represented the latest personnel faux pas by city council. City Council also passed around a note by a disgruntled fire department employee over alleged improper procedures, pay rate, and nepotism for the hiring of the EMS Chief Derrick Clay’s girlfriend. City Council has also indulged and asked questions of terminated employees during citizens requests in open city council meetings deviating from established city human resource appeals process making individual personnel details public.
McClendon, for his part, has not only attempted to side-step the controversy with Jones, but also made other questionable personnel decisions during his first year in office.
The appointment of Fire Chief Dennis Brewer raised concerns from the ranks at the department.
Brewer had previously resigned from department after concerns surfaced over attendance and behavior. The chief now in charge of a $6.3 million annual department budget filed personal bankruptcy after returning to the job.
Brewer hired the mayor’s step brother to head the Emergency Medical Services Division as his chief creating more clamor within the department.
A sanitation supervisor was caught on video clocking out employees at the end of shift who had opted to leave early. The mayor was made aware of the practice. McClendon stopped the practice, but reverted to the past practice in the department allowing sanitation workers to sit on the job at the end of assigned duties and wait to clock out at the end of the shift.