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Victoria firefighters exhaust final appeals, allowed to resign

By Sonny Long
April 26, 2011 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated April 25, 2011 at 11:26 p.m.


TIMELINE OF EVENTS

March 16 - Two Victoria firefighters at Station 2 tape photographs of semi-nude men, some in sexually suggestive poses, in a co-worker's locker.

March 17 - The incident is reported to Battalion Chief Roger Hempel by a lieutenant from Station 2 who retrieved the photographs from a trash can.

March 29 - After an internal investigation, Hempel advises the two firefighters of the "preliminary decision to terminate."

April 4 - Both firefighters appeal the termination decision.

April 5 - Firefighters are advised of the final decision to terminate.

April 12 - Both firefighters file grievance letters, appealing their termination.

April 18 and 19 - Victoria city manager Charmelle Garrett advises both firefighters that she is upholding their termination, but allows them to "resign in lieu of termination" effective April 5.

CITY POLICY

One of the fired firefighters claims the city violated its own policy by releasing information to the media before the grievance procedure was complete. The city's personnel policies manual, under Grievance Procedure, item 7, states, "Information concerning an employee grievance should be confidential. Supervisors, department heads, and other members of management who investigate a grievance may discuss it only with those individuals who have a need to know about it or who are needed to supply necessary background information or advice."

Two Victoria firefighters have gone through the city's grievance procedure and have been allowed to "resign in lieu of termination" in connection with what they said was a practical joke on a co-worker.

The firefighters had been with the department more than five years.

The Advocate received copies of the city manager's letters to the firefighters after filing an Open Records request with the city attorney. The letters, dated April 18 and 19, were received Tuesday.

In letters to the firefighters, Victoria City Manager Charmelle Garrett told them that it was her decision to uphold the termination.

However, Garrett allowed the men to resign in lieu of termination effective April 5, the date of the termination.

Both firefighters declined comment when contacted by the Advocate.

Garrett wrote to both men, "Based on my meeting with you and my review of documents, I do not believe your actions rise to the level of harassment. Based on this opinion, I am removing 'engaging in any form of sexual or other harassment' from the policies listed in your preliminary decision to terminate notice.

"I did, however, note that your action violates the city's Electronic Information Systems Policy, which states that the primary use of the Internet is restricted to city of Victoria purposes. This policy violation was not cited in your preliminary notice to terminate, but should have been."

Garrett individualized the letters in a couple of instances, telling the firefighter who printed the photographs, "Your actions, by your own admission, were inappropriate, but not intended to offend or imply that your fellow firefighter was homosexual. You viewed your action as a prank or joke.

"It is my opinion that none of the pictures should have been printed, but three of the pictures you printed crossed the line and have no place in any work environment."

Garrett also told the firefighter who helped tape the photographs in the locker, "Your conduct in this incident, coupled with other open disciplinary actions...lead me to uphold the termination decision."

In his final appeal letter, one of the firefighters pointed out that the city violated its own policy by releasing information to the media before the grievance procedure was complete.

He wrote, "This is a blatant disregard of the city's own confidentiality policy and does not give me a fair chance to plead my appeal to you, city manager Charmelle Garrett, who was supposed to remain an impartial third party in making your decision to reinstate my employment.

"...I respectfully request that I be immediately reinstated with no further information released to the public."

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