Davis: Let’s go public|Terminated fire chief wants chance to confront accusers

Published 7:58 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

Contributing Editor

Jimmy Davis, recently terminated as chief of the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections Department, wants his grievance hearing to be public.
Davis, placed on administrative leave June 17 and terminated last week, and his attorney, Brian Jones, said they believe city residents and others have the right to know the circumstances surrounding Davis’ termination.
“We certainly hope that it is,” said Jones, a partner in the law firm of Mason &Jones, when asked about the likelihood of the hearing being open to the public.
City Manager James C. Smith confirmed that Davis has filed a formal grievance with the city. Smith, citing state personnel law and the city’s personnel policy regarding employees’ privacy rights, declined to say when that hearing would be conducted.
“There will be a hearing,” said Smith, adding he is not sure if state law allows the hearing to be open to the public even if Davis desires it to be open.
“In response to the city manager’s allegations against Mr. Davis, Mr. Davis’ attorneys say that Mr. Davis has filed a formal grievance, as is required by the city’s personnel policy. The grievance policy entitles him to confront and cross-examine witnesses who the city claims have evidence against Mr. Davis,” reads a statement from Davis’ attorneys. “We look forward to the city presenting those witnesses and any evidence it claims to have in this matter. We expect the opportunity to be a meaningful one.”
If the result of the hearing is not satisfactory for Davis, he is prepared to take the necessary steps to address what he considers an unlawful termination, according to the statement.
“The city manager is saying on camera that he cannot discuss details because the city offered me an opportunity to sign a release of my privacy rights and I declined to sign it. Well, I have no legal obligation to waive my privacy rights, and I will not voluntarily relinquish any other rights I might have in this case. It sounds to me like the city manager wants to talk publicly without first telling me privately what information the city manager thinks he has and where the information comes from,” Davis said during an interview. “The city manager’s written statements and his comments to the media all support my belief that this city manager does not respect the rights of the city’s employee-citizens. The city manager’s investigation, if that’s what you want to call it, has not been done fairly. I have been trying for the past month to set the record straight, and that is what I am trying to do. I’m ready to proceed and can tell you what I know at this point.”
Davis said allegations against him include, but are not limited to, the following:
• having city employees pick up lunch orders for him;
• having city employees run errands such as making deposits at banks for him;
• having city employees make appointments for things such as haircuts for him;
• taking and making personal phone calls on his city-owned cell phone;
• showing favoritism to some city employees;
• personal use of a city-owned copy machine;
• using city employees and equipment for personal business.
Davis said he’s been accused of confronting city employees, accusing a city employee in his department of having extra-marital affairs and making inappropriate comments at the fire station.
“I supervise many employees who work in a high-stress environment, and I would not allow such behavior and inappropriate relationships to take place in a manner that might affect the efficiency and performance of the fire department,” Davis said.
Davis said he told a former city finance officer that if there was ever any question about costs related to his use of the city-owned cell phone issued to him, he would more than willing to pay those costs. Davis said he was never asked to make such a reimbursement.
Jones said he and Davis believe the former fire chief is the target of an unfair investigation.
“You would have to ask the employees of the City of Washington whether they make personal copies on city copiers or use city phones for personal calls. I believe that the common practice for the city has been to allow employees to use city phones. I have never before been advised by the city that I violated any policy with regard to these allegations. I am concerned that the city manager is treating employees who are similarly situated very differently,” Davis said.
“We’re concerned the city manager is … treating employees differently,” Jones said.
Davis denies any wrongdoing in regard to his job performance as a city employee. He said the allegations against him are unfounded.
Smith said the allegations against Davis are not criminal in nature and that Davis had not been the subject of a criminal investigation.
Davis said Smith’s decision to place him on administrative leave then terminate him as a surprise. Davis said his last two job-performance evaluations, conducted by Smith, resulted in him receive a 4.06 rating and a 4.25 rating out of a possible 5 rating.
Asked why he was at first placed on administrative leave then subsequently terminated without any prior, less-severe disciplinary measures being taken, Davis replied: “That’s what we want to know.”
Davis said that when he was notified June 16 that he would be meeting with Smith the following day to discuss the allegations against him, he asked for time to prepare his responses to the allegations. That request was denied, Davis said.
Outside activities
Davis believes some activities outside his city employment, such as his involvement with the local Cal Ripken baseball league, are a factor, to some degree, in his being placed on leave and then terminated.
“I do feel there are some things that are not connected with my employment that are affecting this,” said Davis, adding that he believes his association with the baseball league was frowned upon by some city officials.
Davis said he has a right to pursue and enjoy such associations, noting that the city’s mission statement encourages city employees to become involved with the community they serve. Davis said those associations did not interfere with his job.
Davis said he believes it is common practice within the city government for others, including the city manager, to invest significant city time, resources and, therefore, money to nonprofit organizations.
Davis said there are former coaches and others who are not happy with some of his decisions regarding how the league is run, saying that a seven-member board of directors, not him alone, is responsible for overseeing the league.
“I am concerned that the city’s action against me is in response to complaints regarding matters that are outside the scope of my employment,” Davis said. “This is a matter that really does not have anything to do with my job performance for the City of Washington.”
Davis said the city manager alleges that he talked about the city administration and management by saying, among other things, that the city manager is a joke and that the city manager might say one thing and do another. Jones, Davis’ attorney, denies that allegation.
Jones said the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment establishes rights that are basic in a free society, such as the rights to the freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. Specifically, the First Amendment protections for speech directly apply to the right to criticize freely, according to Jones. The government may place some reasonable restrictions on the right to free speech, but it is clear that the right to speak out against public officials is protected, as is the right to speak out about matters of public concern without fear of retaliation from an employer, according to Jones.
“I hate to see this brand of politics take the city down the wrong path. The employees of the city deserve better. This is about them, too. If hard work is not appreciated, then I believe we will lose our best employees,” Davis said. “There have been seven department heads out of 12 who have retired or ended employment under this city manager. That’s in about 36 months. Do the math; that’s close to one department head every 150 days. The citizens of Washington deserve better. Citizens have the right to ask questions and hold city government accountable.”
During the interview with Smith, he reiterated the city’s position that state law and the city’s personnel policy prohibit it from discussing personnel matters.