Tensions within the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District were evident Tuesday when Paint Creek personnel presented the fire board with votes of no confidence in Chief Bradley George.
Tuesday’s board meeting reflected an air of displeasure among the eight personnel, both full-time and part-time, who were present for the meeting and who gave the board documentation of their votes of no confidence in the chief.
Bill Strain, local president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4811, which includes 16 full-time Paint Creek personnel, distributed a packet to board members reflecting a unanimous vote of no confidence in the chief.
Strain asked board members why there was not a retraction in The Times-Gazette in regard to board president Dan Mathews “calling us a bunch of nit-pickers.”
“I want an apology or I want a retraction,” Strain said, saying that the employees who levied complaints against George were called “untruthful.”
“If you want us to come to work in a good environment, that needs to happen,” Strain said to the board.
There was no response from board members.
The document provided by Strain to the board contained 70 items described as issues supporting the reasons for the full-timers’ unanimous vote of no confidence, and includes safety issues, which Strain said are “a big concern,” issues of short-staffing, pay rates and overtime pay, and an allegation of George lying and using “fear and anger to coerce people into doing what he wants,” as well as the chief allegedly using intimidation with employees.
The complaints ranged from matters that were often along the lines of personal affronts – “Chief George statement was ‘maybe I should bump you back down to volunteer, that way you will appreciate being part time’” – to matters of opinion – “Local in house fire truck maintenance company that the district hired, never seemed to fix issues” – to promotion disputes – “Chief George placed a part time employee in to the Deputy Chiefs position over full time staff” – to more serious charges – “Chief George lied and falsified information given to ISO inspectors.”
George could not immediately be reached Wednesday afternoon.
Part-timer Chris Kessinger also presented a similar vote of no confidence from the part-time employees, though it was not unanimous, according to the document.
Kessinger wrote in the document that he contacted all 31 part-timers and described what a vote of no confidence meant. They were given 48 hours to consider the matter “with the information both known to them and provided to them.”
In the document, Kessinger says that 18 votes were submitted, with 17 in favor of no confidence and one dissenting vote. Thirteen votes were not submitted, but he said that nine out of those 13 contacted him and “said they were in favor of the motion but did not vote due to fear of retaliation” from George or the board.
Kessinger wrote that the votes were submitted in writing, in person with a witness, and by phone with a witness “to ensure accuracy and for accountability.”
Board members took a moment to look over the documents presented by the employees. Board member Bill Redenbaugh, acting on behalf of Mathews, who was absent, said, “This obviously needs to be reviewed by the board.”
Soon after, the board went into executive session for the stated purpose of discipline of an employee.
Non-voting board member and representative of Hillsboro, Lee Koogler, as well as Andrew Esposito of Clemans, Nelson & Associates, a Columbus business management consulting firm, remained for the nearly three-hour executive session. No action was taken by the board upon its return to an open meeting shortly before 10 p.m.
On Wednesday Koogler said, “I very much respect the job firefighters do for the Paint Creek district. They have a tough job and they perform admirably. However, everyone needs to remember that the Paint Creek board of directors is in charge of the chief, the assistant chief and all the other personnel. At the end of the day, the board makes the ultimate decisions.”
Esposito conducted the investigation into allegations against George. In a Sept. 8 hearing, George faced charges of gross negligence, malfeasance, and failure to show good behavior. Following the hearing the board found the charges to have been established as true.
At that hearing, a motion to terminate the chief failed with four board members voting yes on the motion, and five voting against. Ultimately, all nine board members voted to place George on a 30-day unpaid suspension, but with guidelines upon his return and more board oversight of operations.
As previously reported, George has been on suspension since early July. He was on vacation when some employees approached the board with complaints and asked that the chief be fired.
Mathews later told The Times-Gazette that many of the initial complaints brought against the chief were “nit-picking.”
During Tuesday’s executive session, as personnel present for the meeting waited in the common area of the fire station on south Washington Street, that word was ever-present, as was an overall attitude of anger and distrust. While waiting out the executive session, firefighters who were part of the no confidence votes continued to voice their discontent.
But the matter was not addressed again by board members after the executive session ended.
Jon Salyer, Paint Creek human resources manager and public information officer, said last week that the board would take up the issue of more than $77,000 in unpaid overtime at its next regular meeting, but it was not discussed in open session Tuesday. Salyer was not present at the meeting Tuesday due to a family matter.
Once the board was back in regular session, the resignation of employee Josh Breakfield was accepted. Also, assistant chief Chad Hamilton said that a committee has been essentially shopping around for new air packs to replace old ones used by firefighters. He said the findings will be presented to the board at its next meeting, as will a specific dollar amount to replace the air packs.
Hamilton also updated the board on the process of a new tanker for the district. He said an AFG (Assistance to Firefighters) grant will cover $270,106 on the tanker. The board’s share, he said, is $27,100. The district is currently in the bid process, Hamilton said.
The fire board meets the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Greenfield fire station. The meetings are open to the public.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.