Pike County Times

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PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295. You can donate through PayPal by clicking here. Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor(@)pikecountytimes.com
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BREAKING NEWS: Chief of Pike County Fire Department Fired;
Interim Chief Appointed in Emergency Meeting
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - Public notice was given for a special called meeting of the Pike County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday afternoon just before 2 p.m. The meeting was held in the County Commission Conference Room in the Commission Office at 4 p.m. This meeting was called for the purpose of appointing an Interim Fire Chief.

Fire Chief Rick O’Barr received his notice of termination by letter yesterday afternoon during a meeting with County Manager Brandon Rogers that ended at 1:30 p.m. The notice for the special called meeting with only an Executive Session was received in Pike County Times’ inbox at 1:48 p.m.

After a forty-minute meeting, Commissioners Tim Guy, Tim Daniel, and Jason Proctor voted 3-0 to hire Bobby Wilkerson as the Interim Fire Chief. He is listed as an active volunteer fireman with the Pike County Fire Department.

Wilkerson also ran for County Commission District 3 after Tommy Powers passed away. He withdrew his name in August of 2019 leaving four other candidates in the race.

Pike County Times’ Interview at End of the Meeting

Pike County Times conducted an interview at the conclusion of the meeting. The purpose was to find out why there was a termination and find out why there was a need for a meeting with only two hours’ notice. County Attorney Rob Morton did not stay for the interview but all three of the commissioners stayed as the county manager was interviewed.

O’Barr’s separation of employment letter stated that termination was effective June 1, 2021, and O’Barr was thanked for his “many years of dedicated service to Pike County and its citizens.”

The editor of Pike County Times has not been to a meeting with 2 hours’ notice in literally 15 years. Why was there such a hurry to get this done with so little notice? The short answer was that the fire chief had been relieved of his volunteer duty to the county, and the county needed an interim fire chief before Rogers left out for military leave on Wednesday because he would be gone for the next 3 weeks. Pike County Times tried to pin down exactly why this was such an emergency and couldn’t have waited until it could be advertised as part of a regular meeting or with a special called meeting that had more than two hours’ notice.

Rogers was asked if there were conversations prior to 2 hours ago in regard to this position. He advised that he had some conversations regarding the position of fire chief prior to O’Barr’s termination that afternoon. He also said that he made a phone call that morning to ask if Bobby Wilkerson would be interested in the position and got some information to make sure that he was qualified to be the fire chief.

After many times of coming back to the exact same questions of “Why did it have to be right now today?” He said, “Why not? Why would we wait another three weeks?” Pike County Times asked again, “What pushed this to be today, right now with 2 hours’ notice?” Rogers said, “We just separated. We’re going a different direction than he is.” [Note from the Editor: Georgia is an at-will state so this is legal, but it just didn’t sit right with me. Maybe I've been in Pike County politics too long...]

Pike County Times kept returning to the reason for the separation and even asked if there were write ups in the file to support this termination. Rogers stated that there were many things that led up to this termination but refused to elaborate further. When pressed about whether there were write ups in the file or some other manner that was used to justify the termination, Rogers advised that there was one write up in his file, but that it was not what caused the termination. Pike County Times asked for a specific trigger point that would have necessitated an emergency meeting with 2 hours’ notice.

Commissioners Tim Guy and Tim Daniel noted that a trigger point for this termination was the lack of volunteers at a recent car accident that occurred in the early morning hours when many people are on their way to work. They said that fire trucks from the Meansville Fire Department had to be called out to Williamson to handle a car fire.

When Pike County Times alleged that the county was circumventing public notice because 2 hours just is not enough time to let the public know that we’re going to fire somebody and hire someone else, Commissioner Tim Daniel noted that the county manager does not have to notify the public that he is going to fire someone.

However, Pike County Times noted that the county's ordinances require that the county manager must have a majority vote of the Commission to hire the department head’s replacement.

Rogers denied circumventing public notice and said, “There has been a lot of things over the years that have led to this. It’s not just one event. And the timing was that it needed to happen at some point. Today was that day.”

When pressed for further information because the county manager is well-known for researching and presenting items for commissioners at county meetings, he advised that he met with the Fire Department in October and has been meeting and talking with volunteers for over 6 months.

“So are you right to say that, yes, I’ve done my homework and talked about this? Absolutely. I try to have a plan for everything.”

This brought the conversation back to the question of why this wasn't advertised and included in a meeting before now.

“Because the decision was made today,” Rogers said.

Rogers said that the fire department cannot operate without a department head and that this meeting had to happen today because someone had to be in charge of the fire department for the safety of the people in the county.

“Really and truly it was just time to get something done,” Commissioner Guy said about needing volunteers to be able to respond to calls. Commissioners Guy and Daniel said that management is what sparked their decision in this very short meeting.

Commissioner Daniel said that a meeting with 2 hours’ notice is not normal and that this is the first time it has happened in his 7 years on the commission. Rogers ended up the question and answer part of the interview by saying that there is a reason that emergency called meetings are available, and that it is for incidents such as this.

[Note from the Editor: Pike County Times will walk through the legality of this emergency meeting in a following section because technically what was done was legal, but it did not meet my two watchdog catch phrases for county politics: 1) Err on the side of caution 2) Act in a manner that is above reproach. I simply cannot see this situation happening so quickly that it needed an emergency meeting with only 2 hours' notice.]

The county notified the Fire Department of the termination of Chief O’Barr and appointment of Chief Wilkerson at the end of the interview.

Open Records Requested and Received on Wednesday, June 2

Pike County Times pulled the CAD reports on two different incidents and noted the difference in volunteer response. In the car accident listed above, there was response with apparatus from the Meansville Fire Department and one county volunteer to fight the fire. The car accident call for help went out at 6:27 a.m. A house fire that occurred at 1:32 p.m. last month brought out numerous volunteers from throughout the county as well as fire apparatus from more than one fire station. The number of volunteers who show up on a scene might be different depending on the time of day or day of the week.

Pike County Times requested and received Bobby Wilkerson's employment history with the county. He applied as Part-Time Maintenance under Building and Grounds under Brandon Rogers in 2017 and worked for the county from 2017 to 2018. Rogers was the Department Head for Building and Grounds until he was appointed as Interim County Manager on June 12, 2020.

Wilkerson retired from Henry County Fire Department in 2017 as a lieutenant after more than 30 years of fighting fires and responding the medical calls and wrecks. As a lieutenant, he had experience as a supervisor. The number of hours worked per week is listed between 48 and 72. Wilkerson was an EMT and a firefighter.

Wilkerson is listed on the Pike County Fire Department roster as a lieutenant and active member of the department.

Open Records Requested and Received on Thursday, June 3

Pike County Times requested a copy of the Fire Department's Operations Manual and received it on Thursday, June 3.

The operations manual was reviewed by the Pike County Board of Commissioners and Pike County Manager as well as the Chief of the Fire Department before being printed on October 30, 2012.

The Organizational Chart on page 91 lists the Fire Chief at the top of the page. Beneath that line is the three Deputy Chiefs who are currently Jimmy Totten-Deputy Chief EMA, Rusty Smith-Deputy Chief of Operations, and Doug Neath-Deputy Chief of Training. The Public Information Officer is Anita Neath, and her position as PIO is somewhere between the Chief and the Deputy Chiefs.

The Batalion Chief positions have been eliminated. There is only one remaining Captain, and that is Jeff Oliver for Station 8.

Below this is the Lieuenant positions with D. Kelly at Station 2, Q. Roussean at Station 6, K. Jackson at Station 1, B. Wilkerson (the now Chief) at Station 3, D. Winkler at Station 5, and R. Fallin at Station 7.

All other volunteers fall under this hierarchy. [Note from the Editor: End of June 7, 2021 addition to this article.]

History of Fire Chiefs in Pike County

Tom Tyree was the Fire Chief from 2000 to 2007. [Note from the Editor: Pike County Times has not been able to locate specific information for the period of time between Tyree and Henderson. This will be updated when the information becomes available. Please contact me if you have information that I have not been able to obtain.]

Deputy Fire Chief Bill Dials was mentioned in a 2008 meeting so he may have been the interim between these fire chiefs.

Danny Henderson was the Fire Chief after Tom Tyree. He was there at least two years, but his beginning date was not found in documentation this morning. The fire tax that had been instituted at that time was eliminated and the more than $100,000 in that fund was later absorbed into the county coffers. Henderson was partially compensated for his time during this tenure at $1,500 per month in 2009. That compensation has since gone away and has not been re-instituted. Henderson was fired by then County Manager Bill Sawyer in a standing room only commission meeting on December 31, 2010.

Randy Snyder was appointed as Interim Fire Chief and served until Mike Grant was hired on March 29, 2011.

Mike Grant was appointed as Fire Chief on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. He served until May of 2013 when Deputy Chief Snyder was once again appointed as the acting Chief of Pike County Emergency Services.

Randy Snyder served as the Fire Chief from May 28, 2013 until the Pike County Commission accepted his resignation on August 26, 2014.

Mike Singleton served as the Interim Fire Chief between Snyder’s resignation and the appointment of Rick O’Barr as Fire Chief.

O’Barr had been the Fire Chief in Pike County since December 10, 2014. A group of Pike County citizens with experience in emergency services and fire assisted with the review of applications, interviews, and made a recommendation of Rick O’Barr to the county manager for the position of fire chief.

There have been many changes over the past 20 years. The county stations have combined to be the Pike County Fire Department. Meansville chose not to join the county fire department. Fire fees have been implemented and then rescinded and the money that had been collected for future fire department needs was absorbed into the general fund for other uses.

The position of Fire Chief was partially funded for a time but that money has since been rescinded. The volunteers are currently being compensated $10 per call to help cover their gas though not their time as they volunteer to help citizens on wreck scenes and at fires. And there have been many changes in personnel.

There have also been at least two proposals to move toward a paid department. Whether those proposals were for going totally paid all at once or just a discussion of paying a firefighter or two to be at a station during specific hours to ensure that a truck was always available in an emergency, any payment other than the $10 per call been turned down by commissioners over the past 20 years.

Public Notice of Meetings

According to Pike County’s ordinance in Chapter 30.01 Section N (2), a special meeting with less than 24 hours’ notice can be made if it meets the following guidelines. First, it must be an emergency circumstance. Second, notice shall be provided to the legal organ of the county. And finally, the meeting may be called by the Chairman or two Commissioners.

There have been lawsuits against the county in which the county entered into consent agreements to abide by specific procedures. The Pike County Commission did abide by these orders when scheduling the meeting because the public was clearly advised of the meeting time and discussion that took place within the meeting.

Was there a need for an emergency meeting with just 2 hours' notice? Readers will have to decide that.

Here is the wording from CHAPTER 30: BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS § 30.01 MEETINGS:

(N) Meetings Other Than Regular Meetings.
The Board may meet at times and locations other than those regularly scheduled meetings.

(1) Special Meetings and Reschedule Regular Meetings. A regular meeting may be canceled, rescheduled or moved to a new location within the county site by the chairman for any reason. Other special called meetings may be scheduled by the chairman or at the request of at least two commissioners. Whenever a rescheduled regular meeting or any other special called meeting is to be held at a time and place other than the regularly scheduled time and place, written notice of the change shall be posted for at least 24 hours at the regular meeting place. In addition, written or oral notices shall be given by the clerk 24 hours in advance of the meeting to either the legal organ of the County or a newspaper having general circulation at least equal to that of the legal organ, as well as to each member of the County governing authority.

(2) Meetings With Less Than 24 Hours’ Notice. When emergency circumstances occur, the Board may hold a meeting with less than 24 Hours’ Notice to the public. When such meetings are to be held, the clerk shall provide notice to the legal organ of the County or a newspaper with a general circulation at least equal to the legal organ of the County. Such a meeting may be called by the Chairman or two Commissioners. At the meeting, the Commissioners shall establish and designate emergency temporary meeting locations where public business may be transacted during the emergency. Any action taken in such meeting shall have the same effect as if performed at the regular meeting site.

Who’s Running the County While the County Manager Is on Military Leave?

The county manager is on military leave for the next three weeks.

Until his return on June 21, Chairman Briar Johnson will be leading the Board of Commissioners with the help of the County Attorney as needed.

The resolution that made Section 30.02 a part of our county code was passed in 1979 long before the county manager form of government was brought into existence in 1998 and the county manager duties clarified at state level in 2004. [Note from the Editor: I left out the first part of this sentence (re: 1998) when the article originally went online. Please forgive my error.]


The Pike County Board of Commissioners, at its lawful meeting of the Board on September 12, 1979, does resolve:

(A) That all administrative powers of the Board, in the interim between regular monthly meetings, shall devolve upon and be exercised fully by the Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners;

(B) This delegation of administrative authority is based expressly upon the provision that all actions taken under the authority of this section shall be subject to confirmation by the Board of Commissioners at their next regular meeting; provided further that nothing in this section shall affect the conduct or subject matter of any called meeting of the Board.

(Res. passed 7-9-86) (Res. passed 9-12-79)

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