Council could proceed against fire chief Thursday night

Suspension of rules would allow quick action on no-confidence resolution

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 3, 2011 

Urban County Council members could vote as early as Thursday night on a resolution expressing no confidence in the leadership of Lexington's Division of Fire and Emergency Services.

The resolution comes in response to Mayor Jim Gray's call Monday for the resignation of Fire Chief Robert Hendricks.

The council will vote first whether to put the resolution on the docket. If that is successful, the resolution will receive a first reading. Then a council member may move to suspend the rules and give the resolution a second reading. It takes 10 votes to suspend the rules.

If the rules are suspended, the resolution will have a second reading. The council would then vote for or against the resolution.

All the no-confidence resolution "actually does is (say) we're supporting the administration and mayor in his decision," council member Julian Beard said.

In asking Hendricks to step down, Gray cited a lack of leadership, failure to manage the division's budget and division morale.

The mayor gave Hendricks until noon Tuesday to weigh his options. Hendricks then asked for more time to consider his decision.

Hendricks was scheduled to give a report to the council Tuesday on the fire departments' overtime budget. In his absence, Assistant Chief Michael Gribbin presented the information. Commissioner of Public Safety Clay Mason said Wednesday that Hendricks had sent him a text prior to the meeting saying he would be not there.

When Hendricks did not resign Tuesday, Gray asked the Department of Law to begin assembling evidence that could be presented at a formal hearing seeking Hendricks' dismissal.

The mayor may unilaterally dismiss city commissioners or the police chief because they serve at his will. However, by state statute, dismissing a fire chief requires presenting charges and a hearing before the council.

"At any point, Chief Hendricks can say, 'OK, I'm gone.' Or he can say, 'I want a hearing," Beard said.

If Hendricks requests a hearing, "Then we take off our legislative hats and put on our judicial hats," Beard said of council members. A hearing may be public or, at the employee's request, closed.

Beard said that at similar hearings in the past, the employee had the option of having an attorney present. "They make their case. The administration makes its case," he said.

Ultimately, the council votes in open session on the employee's fate.

Charges against an employee are not made public when they are filed with the council clerk.

However, after the hearing, when the council makes its decision, the charges become a matter of open record, according to city spokeswoman Susan Straub.

To maintain an orderly chain of command, public safety commissioner Clay Mason will oversee day-to-day operations in fire and emergency services until an interim chief is named. An interim chief will be appointed within the week, Gray said.

Hendricks has not returned phone calls to the Herald-Leader this week.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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