By JOEL McNEECE
The Bruce Board of Aldermen voted 3-2 to hire Joe Moss, of Columbia, South Carolina, as the town's next public works director Tuesday night.
Moss, who currently works as general manager of Concut Diamond Products, was previously employed as executive director of Broward Solid Waste Disposal District in South Florida serving more than 1.5 million people, and director of public works in Wilton Manors, Florida. Moss’ hiring is still pending a background check.
The hiring came as a surprise to aldermen Johnny Armstrong and John Earl Armstrong, who were prepared to vote for current water department employee Rodney Gray as the next public works director.
“How can you do this?” John Earl Armstrong asked the board. “Don’t you have to finish what you started?”
The board initially contacted Moss about the job, but voted 3-2 against hiring him because his $60,000 salary requirement was “too high.” Aldermen Steve Nelson voted with the Armstrongs to reject Moss the first time.
The board then opted to extend an offer to Stewart May, an electrical engineer in Nashville. Bruce Mayor Robert Edward Oakley informed the board Tuesday night May said he couldn’t come for less than $80,000 or it would be too large a pay cut from his current job.
Nelson then motioned to hire Moss for $60,000.
“Stewart May was my number one choice,” Nelson said. “I hoped he would get into our ball park and we could hire him.”
“My concern has always been for the other employees,” Nelson said of his reversal. “I hope if he’s (Moss) hired, when it comes budget time we can work with the other employees to help them. Even though this is a lot of money, I believe this is the man we need to hire.”
Aldermen John Earl Armstrong and Johnny Armstrong continued to question the process, arguing that Moss was voted down and May turned the job down.
“I thought now we would go to the third option,” John Earl Armstrong said. “How are you not going to give another guy the same chance?”
“I think the world of Rodney (Gray),” Alderman Lyn Parsons said. “But I don’t think he’s qualified for the job we need done.”
Johnny Armstrong questioned how the board could hire a man who has already been voted down twice before.
Board Attorney Jim Beckett said the Attorney General’s opinion was very clear that the board could vote on an issue as many times as it wanted.
“So we’re not going to give the third guy a chance?” Johnny Armstrong asked again.
“That’s a decision for the board,” Beckett answered.
Mayor Robert Edward Oakley pointed out that when the board was each asked to list their top five choices for the job among the candidates interviewed, Moss was the only one listed on the ballots of all five aldermen.
The Armstrongs argued the pool was reduced to three since then and after Moss was voted down and May turned it down, there should only be one candidate left.
“This was not an easy decision for me,” Nelson said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was hoping for less money, but I believe this is best for the city.”
“I think you’re wrong,” Johnny Armstrong said. “It’s not fair.”
“My first choice was Rodney Gray,” John Earl Armstrong said. “Moss is over qualified for this job. We’ll have to pay him too much money.”
“That’s where you’re underestimating Bruce,” Alderman Parsons said. “Bruce deserves the best.”
“I’ve got to do what I think is right,” Nelson said.
The board authorized the mayor to notify Moss he has been approved and proceed with the background check.
In other business from Tuesday’s meeting:
•Kevin Corder with NRCS notified the board the town was approved for a grant to repair the washed-out culvert on North Newberger. The grant amount is $26,750 with the town responsible for $8,025.
Mayor Oakley said the washed out culvert would be replaced with a new drainage structure and the sides rip-rapped and back up the ditches on each side of the road.
“It will be a first-class project and fix that problem like it hasn’t been before,” Mayor Oakley said.
•The board approved an ad valorem tax exemption for Haworth in Bruce. Mayor Oakley explained the company had added $1.8 million in new equipment as part of the plant expansion that has brought more than 100 jobs to Bruce in just the past year. The exemption would only apply to this new property. The county has already approved the exemption.
Alderman Gary Edwards, Human Resources Manager of Haworth, recused himself from the discussion and vote.
•Dewey Murphree, who lives on the corner of North Newberger and Countiss, gave the board a glass container of brown water to show what was coming through his pipes periodically. Murphree said the water had stained his washer and dryer and bath tub.
Mayor Oakley said he estimated the brown water came from a “disturbance” in the line that caused some of the rust from within the cast iron pipes to be pushed through. He explained Rodney Gray pulls two samples every month and the town hadn’t received a bad sample in many years.
He told Murphree if the problem persists to please alert the town.