Merkison named Clayton fire chief

A 17-year veteran was named Clayton County fire chief Tuesday night, ending months of speculation and division in the 367-member county fire and emergency services department.

The appointment proved to be a vindication for Landry Merkison who had been passed over several months ago as interim fire chief, angering many people in the department and the community. Commissioners Gail Hambrick and Sonna Singleton as well as vice chair Michael Edmondson voted Tuesday night for Merkison’s appointment. Chairman Jeff Turner and commissioner Shana Rooks abstained.

Filling the position had been a point of contention among the five commissioners recently after Turner tried to raise the qualification standards for a number of county jobs, including fire chief. He wanted to fill the position with someone who has a college degree. That effort was squashed because it needed the approval of the full board of commissioners.

Merkison filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shortly after Fire Marshal Dwayne Jackson was named interim chief. Merkison alleged he was not selected because he is white. Jackson is black.

Merkison, who started his career in 1996 and rose to assistant fire chief, was one of three finalists interviewed pubicly Tuesday night at the county commission meeting. The other finalists were East Point Fire Chief Rosemary Cloud and Riverdale Fire Chief Brenda “Nish” Willis. Both women had more than 30 years of fire services each and college degrees. Merkison has received many awards and commendations during his years with the department. He is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from Orange Beach, Ala.-based Columbia Southern University.