A Metro Councilman is calling for an audit of hiring practices in all departments of Metro Government after a News4 I-team investigation found that the list of candidates deemed qualified for Nashville’s fire chief – a list that did not include new chief William Swann – was suddenly terminated just five days before Swann was handpicked to lead the department.
The News4 investigation also found that at the time of being named as “someone to fill the chief role” in the official press release from the mayor’s office, Swann would not have been allowed to apply for the for the actual position because of a lack of bachelor’s degree at the time.
“That’s wrong. Period,” said Metro Councilman Steve Glover, who is also a frequent critic of Metro government.
Glover said after viewing our story, he will be calling for the audit.
At-Large Councilman John Cooper, who reviewed the I-Team’s findings, said the abolishment of the qualified list of candidates, just five days before Swann was appointed interim and who would later get the job, raised questions about cronyism.
“Of course, it seems questionable,” Cooper said.
The News4 I-Team obtained the “recruitment list” for fire chief in 2016 through October 2017.
To get on the list, applicants had to be deemed eligible for the job, meaning they had to have certain qualifications, including a bachelor’s degree and five years of management experience.
The 2016-2017 included some of the top people in the Nashville Fire Department, including one candidate who had a master’s degree.
The list had even determined the top three candidates for an open fire chief position.
Not on the 2016-2017 eligible list: William Swann, a veteran of the fire department and the chief of staff to then fire chief Ricky White.
In 2016 and 2017, Swann couldn’t have applied for the fire chief position because he did not have his bachelor’s degree.
But on October 27, 2017, all of the eight candidates on the eligible list were suddenly notified that the list had been abolished, without an explanation given.
Shannon Hall, Metro Human Resources director, confirmed to the News4 I-Team that former Mayor Megan Barry directed her to abolish the list.
Hall said she was unaware of the reasons why.
Just five days after the list was abolished, Barry announced that chief Ricky White would be stepping down after getting a DUI and that Swann would be running the department.
The news release read that, “In finding someone to fill Chief White’s role, Mayor Barry has appointed Commander William Swann to serve as Interim Director Chief.”
Eleven months later, the man who in October 2017 who wasn’t on the eligible list and could not have applied for the position at the time, would become the city’s new fire chief.
“Do you think this is an example of cronyism in Metro government?” asked the News4 I-Team.
“Oh, absolutely,” Glover said.
The News4 I-Team repeatedly reached out to Barry for an interview to explain why the list was abolished, but she denied our requests.
“Does it concern you that these candidates were abolished?” asked the News4 I-Team.
“It concerns me that they weren't treated fairly,” Cooper said.
The News4 I-Team repeatedly asked Swann for an interview to ask if he had any knowledge that the eligible list had been abolished before he was named interim and if he disclosed to Barry to anyone that he hadn’t finished his degree yet, but his spokesman denied our request.
When we spoke to him after a press conference on Wednesday, he again said he knew nothing about the eligibility list.
"Some Council members have said what we found is proof of cronyism in metro government. Do you want to respond to that at all?" asked the I-Team.
“I have no response to that. The questions that you asked us - those are (human resource) questions. So I don't have any comment,” Swann said.
Records from the city show two months after he began running the department on an interim basis, Swann received his bachelor’s degree.
In 2018, the abolished recruitment list for fire chief was reopened.
Despite not being on the list in 2017, in 2018, Swann was then determined to have the highest score and top rank to be considered for the position.
In reviewing the applications, the News4 I-Team found one of the candidates was rejected for not having a bachelor’s degree.
A year after not being able to apply for the job, Mayor David Briley named Swann as fire chief in October 2018.
The News4 I-Team shared all of our findings with Briley’s office and asked for an interview to determine if Briley was aware of the abolished candidate list in 2017, but a mayor’s spokesman told us the mayor had no comment.
“That's the problem. It's not the good old boys club. Apparently, it's the good old club,” Glover said.
The News4 I-Team did speak with several of the people on the eligibility list that was abolished, but they said they were afraid of retaliation if they went on the record.