Lexington council clarifies vote on mayor's move against fire chief

says resolution on fire division wasn't against hendricks

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2011 

The resolution passed by Lexington's Urban County Council at Thursday night's meeting was not an action against Fire Chief Robert Hendricks, but a show of support for Mayor Jim Gray as his administration looks into management of the fire department, council members said Friday.

"We just supported the mayor in moving forward with ... whatever investigation he needs to do," council member Jay McChord said.

The council and mayor met for almost two hours in closed session Thursday night before emerging with a resolution introduced by council member Ed Lane, which 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."

Council approved the resolution on a 14-0 vote. Council member Julian Beard was absent.

On Monday, Gray asked for Hendricks' resignation, making it clear he wanted the chief out. He said his main concerns were Hendricks' failure to manage the division's budget — especially significant overtime expenditures for firefighters; division morale; and lack of leadership.

Also Monday, 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 the council's work session Tuesday, "given the overtime issues and the morale problem."

In addition, the mayor received a draft investigation report requested by former Mayor Jim Newberry's administration on sexual harassment in the fire department. That investigation is ongoing, according to a press release from the mayor's office.

Gray gave Hendricks until noon Tuesday to make a decision. When the fire chief did not step down, Gray asked the law department to start compiling charges against the chief that could be presented at a formal hearing seeking his dismissal. Gray said on Tuesday that an interim chief would be appointed within the next week.

State law lays out the city's procedure for dismissing a fire chief. 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 would make the final decision on the fire chief's fate: dismissal, suspension or reprimand.

Because the council might have to sit in a judicial role in Hendricks' case, council members do not want to do anything that might make it appear they have pre-judged the situation, McChord said.

"That is why we don't talk about any of the particulars" of the case, said Vice Mayor Linda Gorton. "Because we want to sit in a hearing and be impartial, fair-minded citizens."

Lane said his resolution "states the council's belief that management issues in Fire and Emergency Services should be addressed by Mayor Gray and his administration. At the same time, the vote also expresses the council's support of the mayor's efforts to correct any operational deficiencies in the department."

At Tuesday's work session, the council voted to forward a resolution of "no confidence" in the leadership of the fire department to Thursday night's council docket. "Everybody thinks we voted on something" on Tuesday, McChord said. "All we said was, this is the motion we're going to bring forward to actually vote to put onto the docket on Thursday night."

On Thursday, the council decided to substitute the resolution introduced by Lane.

McChord said he had problems with the no-confidence resolution because it expressed no confidence in the "leadership of the fire department. There were a number of us that did not feel that accurately reflected our feelings. It's not that I don't have confidence in all folks in leadership in fire. That would be an inaccurate statement."

Gorton said, "Every council member learns this: Sometimes we're willing to vote to put something on the docket for process sake" in order to have an open discussion on the topic, she said.

"I know to the public it looks crazy," Gorton said. "It's purely process."

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

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