Lexington mayor asks fire chief to resign

Mayor cites problems with Leadership, morale

bfortune@herald-leader.com and kward1@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2011 

  • Statement from mayor's office

    This statement was sent to Lexingon media by spokeswoman Susan Straub on Monday, Feb. 28, regarding the requested resignation of Fire Chief Robert Hendricks:

    Mayor asks Fire Chief to resign

    Mayor Jim Gray today requested the resignation of Fire Chief Robert Hendricks.

    “I’ve carefully observed the operation of Fire and Emergency Services over the last four years as a councilmember, and now as Mayor,” Gray said. “This position requires the highest level of leadership and, regrettably, it has not been demonstrated by Chief Hendricks.”

    At the Chief’s request, Gray gave Hendricks until noon Tuesday to “weigh his options.”

    Gray said his chief concerns are lack of leadership, failure to manage the division’s budget, especially overtime, and division morale. “In observing these issues over some time, I have often expressed my concerns about the division’s leadership, and that starts with the Chief,” Gray said. “Demanding times require strong leadership.”

    Hendricks is scheduled to present information on the overtime budget to the Urban County Council Tuesday afternoon. The report shows serious budget overruns in overtime expenditures for firefighters.

    In addition, the Mayor is in receipt of a draft investigatory report requested by the Newberry administration concerning sexual harassment within the Division. This investigation is ongoing.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray asked Fire Chief Robert Hendricks to resign Monday and gave him until noon Tuesday to make a decision.

"I've carefully observed the operation of Fire and Emergency Services over the last four years as a council member, and now as Mayor," Gray said in a statement released Monday night. "This position requires the highest level of leadership and, regrettably, it has not been demonstrated by Chief Hendricks."

The release says the mayor's "chief concerns are lack of leadership, failure to manage the division's budget, especially overtime, and division morale."

In addition to leadership and budget issues, the release said the administration of former Mayor Jim Newberry had requested an investigatory report "concerning sexual harassment within the division" and had given a draft of the report to Gray's administration. The investigation is continuing.

"In observing these issues over some time, I have often expressed my concerns about the division's leadership, and that starts with the chief," Gray said. "Demanding times require strong leadership."

The release did not provide specifics about the issues in the department. Gray's spokeswoman, Susan Straub, declined further comment.

Hendricks did not return calls for comment.

Fire Lt. Chris Bartley, president of Lexington Professional Firefighters Local 526, declined to comment but issued a statement late Monday, saying that "despite some of the differences" the union has had with Hendricks, "we wish him the best in his future endeavors and we look forward with anticipation to what the future holds for the Lexington Fire Department." The firefighters union endorsed Gray in the last election.

Hendricks is scheduled to make a presentation to council members Tuesday about firefighter overtime.

The presentation will show "serious budget overruns in overtime expenditures for firefighters," according to the release.

As for the allegations of sexual harassment in the department, Newberry told the Herald-Leader on Monday night that his administration had asked "an individual from outside Urban County Government" to conduct an investigation into sexual harassment allegations after a fire department employee expressed concerns.

"The allegations of sexual harassment were complicated and involved a lot of people," Newberry said. "We requested the external review simply because it was going to take a lot of digging to get into it. We felt it was best to have somebody outside LFUCG take a look at that situation because of the breadth of the allegations."

Newberry said he did not see a draft document about the sexual harassment charges, "but I knew in late December that he was very close to completing his report. So I guess that's what happened."

Low morale

Council member Kevin Stinnett said that if Gray had not asked for Hendricks' resignation, there was a "strong possibility" the council would have asked Hendricks to step down at its work session Tuesday, "given the overtime issues and the morale problem."

Overtime in the fire department has been of concern to Urban County Council members for several years. From 2007 to 2009, the budget for overtime jumped from $1.5 million to $3.2 million.

Stinnett said that when the fire department was asked two weeks ago how much the division would need in additional overtime funds to complete fiscal year 2011, the figure was $420,000. Stinnett said that was based on what the department already has spent on overtime this fiscal year. "If you project that out 41/2 months, it comes to $420,000," Stinnett said.

But in a copy of a report on firefighter overtime that Hendricks is scheduled to present Tuesday, his figures indicate the department will need $91,000. So Stinnett said he did not know what the real figure was.

On Tuesday "the council will hear for the first time what they will really need," he said.

In 2008, Stinnett asked for a presentation to the council about firefighters' overtime "because at that time, (overtime) was creeping up to almost $3 million."

In the next budget, Newberry included $3.4 million for firefighters' overtime. Stinnett said the council reduced the overtime amount to about $2 million and required the fire department "to hire a new class to fill all vacant positions so we could do away with the extra overtime. That's simply put, but that's what we did because at the time we were 35 officers short from full strength."

Overtime is a major issue in management of the fire department, Stinnett said. "Any time you go over budget, it is an issue for any department, especially when we have declining revenue as we've had the past two years."

Stinnett said excessive amounts of overtime, the investigation into sexual harassment, the absence of a strategic plan for the future of the department and "the lack of clear and definitive leadership" had all contributed to low morale.

"All those things eat at the morale of the division. They weigh heavy on it," he said. "People want to be led in that kind of environment. Anything that undermines the leadership would cause a morale problem."

Stinnett said the council has requested "on a number of occasions" a strategic plan for the fire department detailing how many fire stations and firefighters the community will need in the future. Hendricks never provided such a plan, Stinnett said.

"The chief has served this community well for a number of years," Stinnett said. "But I do think there is a morale problem, and when there is a morale problem, it points to the leadership."

A long history

Hendricks has had a long career with the Lexington Fire Department.

He retired as a district major in 1997, then went on to become chief of the Georgetown Fire Department.

Mayor Teresa Isaac brought him back as chief in 2003.

Isaac said in a statement Monday night that she appointed Hendricks "because he had broad experience and an open style of management. On his watch, I knew that the department would face any emergency and any challenge with the best training and greatest dedication.

"I thank Chief Hendricks for helping keep Fayette County safe for the last eight years even though during the last four years, he was not given an adequate number of firefighters."

Hendricks' salary is $148,379, making him the highest-paid employee in city government based on salary alone. He also receives a pension because he had previously retired from the fire department, but the city was unable to provide information Monday night on how much the pension is.

A native of Russell, Hendricks is a paramedic who helped his father start the volunteer fire department in that Eastern Kentucky town when he was 16 years old.

Herald-Leader reporter Josh Kegley contributed to this report.

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