Salary revealed for new EMA director

From left, Mayor Robbie Robinson and selectmen Keith McBrayer William Binder and Leta Turner listen during Tuesday's discussion.
Staff Writer

Clay County's new emergency management director will make $41,500 when he starts in a week and Torrey Williams will earn more once he completes his state certification.

The salary is a compromise between the $38,000 the Board of Selectman's Finance Committee recommended based on the job duties and what other EMA directors in the region make and the $45,000 at which some some selectmen wanted to start Williams.

Citing the $28,000 paid in Union County, $30,000 in Chickasaw County, and $47,000 paid in Monroe County, Mayor Robbie Robinson told selectmen the $38,000 recommended for Williams was a good mix, especially since those other counties all had certified EMA directors. Clay County can pay more because some of the responsibilities include administrative work for the West Point Fire Department, the mayor added.

He also noted when retiring EMA Director Kerrie Gentry-Blissard took over as EMA director in 2014, she was paid $48,000 but had been certified for 15 years. That was up from $40,000 in 2012 when she served as assistant director and also had other responsibilities, Robinson said.

Gentry-Blissard announced last month she is retiring at the end of May although technically her last day will be June 30 once she has used vacation time. Overall, she has almost 30 years experience in EMA work and has been certified since 1999.

"We did consider the person, the experience and the other salaries when we set the $38,000 recommendation," Robinson said in response to a question from Selectman Ken Poole.

"Once he gets certified and his schooling done, then we can bump him up," added Selectman Kenneth McBrayer.

But Poole, a former police officer who now is a paramedic, wanted to go higher, asking, "Can we consider $45,000?"

"It's too much, based on the lack of experience," Robinson responded, sparking a 15-minute discussion about Williams' credentials, what constitutes experience, and how the board would determine future increases.

"Once he passed the first two steps, I don't see why we are turning him back to the first step," Selectwoman Leta Turner said of Williams.

The fact he was one of six applicants and was rated the second best of those should be given more credit, Turner added.

Selectman Jasper Pittman suggested $40,000, which prompted Turner to say that was the same thing Eddie Longstreet was brought in as City Clerk and he had no experience and the EMA director covers the entire county.

"There's no job where you start out at the top dollar," Selectman William Binder noted, responding to Poole's suggestion that Williams start at $41,000 and then go to $50,000 once he became certified.

"With all her years experience, she had to move up. That's what we need to do in this case," McBrayer stated, referring to Gentry-Blissard.

"We've got to have some kind of a cap. The first step is certification and then with four or five years experience, he can take some steps," Robinson said.

"I know we are trying to be fiscally responsible, but we also have to be fair to Torrey," Poole said before suggesting the $41,500 as a compromise with more discussions after he reaches certification.

That passed unanimously during Tuesday's special board meeting.

Williams, a former E-911 dispatcher in Clay County, now is a dispatcher for Oktibbeha 911 and works part-time in the EMA office there. He is the fire chief at the Clay County Unit 100 Volunteer Fire Department.

He also is in paramedic school, which he may have to leave if he is to work full-time in Clay County.

A committee of three EMA directors from the region recommended he be named assistant director and recommended someone else be named director to replace Gentry-Blissard. But the Board of Supervisors, citing Williams' local roots and experience, made him director and Selectmen followed suit.

West Point controls the department's salary and $91,000 total budget and the county only puts in $21,000 which comes from a state grant. Selectmen have asked Robinson to set up a meeting with supervisors to discuss a more equitable financial split. The city also pays $5,000 toward an assistant director's spot.

Supervisors named Treva Hodge, the county's 911 director and human resources manager, to be the assistant director. The city has not gone along with that.

"That's some of the things we have to talk to the supervisors about," Binder said.