David Berry

Submitted / The Outlook

Camp Hill fire chief David Berry addresses the council.

Another Tallapoosa County fire chief is under fire.  

Camp Hill mayor Messiah Williams-Cole suspended fire chief David Berry's pay following a tense exchange at the town council meeting Monday.

The council gave Berry until March 15 to provide documentation of inventory, vehicle titles and donations made to the volunteer fire department. Mayor Messiah Williams-Cole said Berry's salary would be suspended until those documents were received.

According to Williams-Cole, the town had requested the documents in a letter dated Feb. 2 with a deadline of Monday, Feb. 15, the day of the council meeting. On Monday, Berry said he did not have the documents.

"Until we have those documents, you are officially on suspension, and this is without pay," Williams-Cole said, adding that as a salaried employee of Camp Hill, Berry fell under the control of the mayor.

"If you don't want a fire department, then you won't have one," the fire chief said.

Berry also said some of the documents requested were not within the purview of the town and that 13 days was "pretty short notice."

After several minutes of back-and-forth, the town council passed a motion allowing Berry another month to gather documentation of titles, inventory and donations. Williams-Cole revoked his pay to be reinstated when those documents are received.

Berry said he would not be able to attend the March 15 council meeting because his grandchild was visiting.

Unlike police departments, fire departments are not required by Alabama law. Municipalities that do have fire departments may have professional, volunteer or community organization fire departments, in which the town pays the organization a fee for its services.

Williams-Cole said Wednesday he was still seeking "clarity" on whether Camp Hill's fire department was deemed "volunteer" or a "community organization."

"I consider them a volunteer fire department because we pay and we hire the chief," he said. If Camp Hill Fire Department were a community organization, the town would not be entitled to their financial documents and would be paying a fee to the organization as a whole rather than a fire chief salary, Williams-Cole said.

In addition to paying Berry's salary, Williams-Cole said Camp Hill pays insurance on the fire department's vehicles, equipment and building. The town also pays for its electricity, gas and water.

Williams-Cole, elected mayor in November at age 21, said as far as he knew Camp Hill's previous mayors had "dropped the ball" on asking for such documents.

"We didn't have our first audit until maybe two years ago so I doubt that has been asked for," he said. "This has been going on for a lot longer than even I have been born."

While Berry's salary is suspended, Berry is still acting fire chief.

Williams-Cole iterated he was not on a "crusade against the fire department" Monday.  

"The question is not whether or not we have a fire department," Williams-Cole said. "The question is, are we going to have a fire department that follows the rules and regulations set forth by the council and the state of Alabama or are we going to have a fire department that does whatever it wants to do."

Berry could not be reached for comment. Camp Hill Fire Department's phone number has a voice mailbox that has not been set up yet.

Last week, nearby Dadeville City Council voted not to reappoint its fire chief Keith Wilkerson. Dadeville mayor Jimmy Frank Goodman said he could not comment on the reason not to reappoint.