Lexington council votes to support mayor in effort to dismiss fire chief

Vote Unanimous; next comes formal hearing

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 4, 2011 

Lexington Fire Chief Robert G. Hendricks

LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Lexington's Urban County Council voted unanimously Thursday night to support Mayor Jim Gray in his effort to dismiss Fire Chief Robert Hendricks.

The vote was 14-0. Council member Julian Beard was absent.

The council originally was slated to vote on a resolution expressing "no confidence" in the leadership of the fire department, but after members met for almost two hours in closed session, they emerged with different wording.

The resolution introduced by council member Ed Lane stated: "To support the mayor and the administration in moving forward with the process to correct the management issues in the Division of Fire and Emergency Services."

Asked later about the change from a vote of no confidence, Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said, "This is the resolution the council wanted to pass."

She declined to elaborate: "I really can't talk about it, because that would be closed session information." State law allows the council to discuss personnel issues in private.

After the council meeting, Gray said he had not spoken with Hendricks, but "we are moving forward to ensure that leadership is present in the highest level of the fire department." Gray said Hendricks was officially on leave.

Commissioner of Public Safety Clay Mason has assumed oversight of day-to-day operations of the Division of Fire and Emergency Services. The mayor said an interim chief would be named within the week.

On Monday, Gray asked for Hendricks' resignation, citing a lack of communication and leadership, Hendricks' failure to manage the division's budget, and morale issues among firefighters. Gray set a deadline of noon Tuesday.

When Hendricks declined to step down, the mayor directed the city's law department to begin preparing a case seeking the chief's dismissal.

Under state law, the charges must be filed with the council clerk, and the council must hold a hearing within three days after the charges are filed. The council then would make the final decision on Hendricks: dismissal, suspension or reprimand.

Asked about a timetable for scheduling a formal hearing before the council, Gray said, "The law department is handling that."

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

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