McComb’s former city administrator disagrees with comments made about his job performance and his management of the city from the selectmen who voted to terminate him.
Dirkland Smith was fired in a 4-2 vote during a June 23 executive session.
“Mr. Dirkland Smith was underperforming, and there were some conflicts with day-to-day opera-tions,” Selectman Ronnie Brock recently said of the firing.
But Smith responded Tuesday that he was not underperforming.
“The things that were said, I don’t think they are highly accurate,” he said in an interview. “I don’t think underperforming is in my DNA. I was giving the city 110%.”
Smith, who took the job on Aug. 31, 2019, said that in the 10 months between then and his termination he focused on moving the city forward.
He cited his development of the city’s employee evaluation program, securing some $60,000 in grants and donations, management of a $1.5 million loan the city borrowed from itself and the near completion of the delayed 2018 audit as some of his accomplishments.
“What documentation shows that I was under-performing? For six months I had no written evaluation, so what is your basis for me underper-forming?” he asked. “And if I was underperforming, what did (Brock) do as a leader to help me to perform?”
Brock said he and other selectmen spoke with Smith multiple times along with Mayor Quordiniah Lockley about his performance and the termination was not “out of the blue.”
Brock also said the city administrator works at the “will and pleasure” of the board, so his termination does not require cause.
Smith countered that the looming fear of termination makes for an unacceptable work environment at City Hall.
Smith also said there were conflicts in the city’s operations and interference from board members, including Brock.
“The charter and the State Auditor say that you are the legislature. Your job is to make policy and law. That is it,” he said. “My job is execution. When you want to execute, you become part of operations.”
In April, Brock led the removal of Smith from a committee charged with designing a new Martin Luther King Center gym and placed himself and Selectman Devante Johnson on it instead. Smith said this came after Brock injected himself in the planning process, but Brock said the board voted to remove Smith from the panel.
“In an email, Selectman Brock asked me why I hadn’t sent the plans to the architecture firm,” Smith said, adding that he felt it needed board approval. “He said I should know what needs board approval and what doesn’t. ... He said, ‘You are a distraction to this board. These are the type of things I am talking about.’ ”
Another issue Smith said he found in the MLK gym progress was that the architecture firm continually overstated the prices for parts of the gym, such as the bleachers and flooring.
“I was being told from companies that do the work that those were too high, but you want to take me off of the project because I am too slow,” he said. “To me, that is getting in the day-to-day operations. I was hired to be a good steward of the taxpayers' money and advise the board about anything I feel might be illegal.”
Brock countered that Smith never brought anything to the board saying Brock asked him to do something illegal and called Smith’s claim “nonsense.”
Smith noted an opinion from the Attorney General’s office made March 29, 2019, in which it states “an alderman” — in McComb’s case, a selectman — has no authority to direct the daily activities of municipal employees.
Brock said the tipping point on firing Smith was that he threatened to file a legal complaint against Johnson for verbal assault, and that was what gave the board a concensus to fire him.
Johnson, along with selectmen Donovan Hill and Shawn Williams, also voted to fire Smith, while selectmen Michael Cameron and Ted Tullos opposed.
Smith also mentioned that Brock wanted keys to the police department as well as to put pictures and names of police officers on the internet, which Smith was squarely against.
“That is an operational risk,” he said. “We have had officers photos to show up in known drug houses in the past.”
In March, the board gave Smith the flexibility to respond to the pandemic, and he closed city hall to the public, which upset Brock, who said the move should have required board approval and told Smith “something is going to happen” if he did not unlock the doors.
Brock said Smith’s claims of interference are an excuse to cover up his underperforming.
“If we sometimes got into day-to-day, it is because he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing. ... It was to make sure he was performing,” Brock said.
Though Smith does not think the city will go bankrupt, he was wary of the board’s decision to borrow another $1.5 million from itself. The board has until Sept. 30 to repay it and if it’s not able to, “The State Auditor is going to come in and whatever they decide they will decide,” Smith said.
Smith said he asked Brock how he was doing as the city administrator, and Brock told him that he had no complaints, but Brock voted twice to terminate him.
Brock said he told Smith he was not doing a good job or performing up to his expectations.
“We’ve had communications with the mayor in reference to Mr. Smith, and the mayor can verify that Smith didn’t know what he was doing,” Brock said, adding that his one vote to terminate him did not seal Smith’s fate. “You can talk to any other selectman and the mayor too if the mayor was honest. We talked to him many times about Mr. Smith. This wasn’t out of the blue no one was out to get him.”
Brock said the termination was not motivated by personal feelings.
“I don’t have anything personal against Mr. Smith, but we have a city to run,” he said. “If he thinks he has been fired unjustly he can just file a suit.”