Dale EMA to report to commission chairman—again

Dale County EMA Kurt McDaniel, right, and his attorney John White listen at the Dale County Commission Due Process Hearing held following McDaniel's suspension from county duties.

The Dale County Emergency Management Agency Director will now report to the Dale County Commission Chairman—again.

In a June 23 Dale County Commission vote modifying their 2018 decision, the commissioners unanimously agreed that “under the circumstances, it has been determined that it would be more appropriate for the appointing authority of the EMA Director to be the chairman of the commission.”

The June 23 resolution modified the existing July 24, 2018 resolution that had reduced the responsibilities of the Dale County Commission Chairman “to the statutory duties that the chairman had when the local bill was passed establishing the position.”

At the 2018 commission meeting the commissioners approved a pre-printed resolution to change the duties of the chairman that Dale County Attorney Henry Steagall had introduced at the work session immediately preceding the voting meeting without any discussion, comment or questions by the commissioners.

“The commission has indicated that they want to consider going back to only the statutory duties that the chairman has under the law,” Steagall said that that time, displaying a copy of the resolution on an audio/visual screen for viewing by those attending the work session.

The 2018 resolution defied the “statutory duties of the chairman” as “to preside over the meetings of the county commission, to serve as a signatory for the county commission on documents, to vote in the event of a tie vote, to insure that an accurate record of the meetings is kept, to oversee and supervise the upkeep of the financial records, to issue and sign (checks) and to perform other duties as may be required by law and to perform additional duties as deemed appropriate pursuant to a resolution adopted by a majority of the members of the commission.”

The resolution also stated that “the Dale County Commission has not granted the chairman any additional duties other than those provided for in local and state law including, but not limited to, the authority to supervise, direct and control the activities of the county administration, the engineer, county attorney, sheriff or his department, elected county officials or their staffs or give the appearance of representing the commission on his individual issues at public meetings or places, social media or on the county website.

“The commission resolves to restrict the actions and powers of the commission chairman to only those limited specific duties granted to him by local or state law,” the 2018 resolution states.

The resolution put the solid waste department and staff and the maintenance supervisor and staff under the direction of the county engineer.

The county administrator and the Emergency Management Agency director were placed under the direction of the entire commission.

Moving the EMA director back under the authority of the commission chairman comes on the heels of a 10-day suspension without pay and a $1,000 fine assessed Dale County EMA Director Kurt McDaniel by the commission after a Due Process Hearing held June 16.

The vote to suspend McDaniel came after a 28-minute executive session begun immediately after the Due Process meeting convened. Following the vote at the Due Process Hearing, the commission reconvened in executive session with McDaniel and his attorney and it was announced to those attending the hearing that no further business was expected following the executive session.

The June 16 proceeding came after a June 9 unanimous vote of the commission to issue a notice of termination to McDaniel who has served as Dale County EMA since 2015.

McDaniel was issued the notice of termination on the recommendation of Steagall and Dale County Administrator Cheryl Ganey at the June 9 meeting. At issue was his recent social media posts regarding national protests spurred by the death May 25 of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn.

McDaniel was suspended from his county EMA duties June 4 by Steagall and Ganey, pending a commission decision. Under the Dale County Organization Chart, McDaniel at that time reported directly to the commission as a whole, instead of the county chairman.

“As you know, our EMA Director Kurt McDaniel has an extensive history of warnings and reprimands regarding his job performance in the last few years,” Steagall said, reading from the written recommendation to the commission. “In February 2019, Mr. McDaniel was suspended from his position on the E911 Board for unethical conduct as a board member.

“Due to his history of discipline as EMA director and the E911 Board suspension, McDaniel was called before the commission in March 2019 and given one last opportunity to correct his deficiencies. He was given a list of correct actions which were expected of him in order to continue as the EMA director and he acknowledged his mistakes, signed his name in agreement and assured the commission there would be no further violations of the personnel rules or improper conduct,” Steagall said. “Since McDaniel made those assurances to the commission last year, it has come to the attention of the county administration that McDaniel has continued to violate county personnel rules.”

The next meeting of the Dale County Commission is Tuesday, July 14, in the Dale County Government Building in Ozark. A work session begins at 10 a.m. and is followed immediately by a voting meeting. Both meetings are open to the public.

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