Lexington fire chief remains on paid leave; no evidence of charges

jkegley@herald-leader.comApril 28, 2011 

Two months ago, Mayor Jim Gray asked Lexington Fire Chief Robert Hendricks to resign. He didn't, so Gray asked the city's law department to compile charges against Hendricks in an effort to seek his dismissal. Then the mayor appointed an interim chief.

Hendricks is still drawing a paycheck, and there is no evidence that charges have been filed.

City spokeswoman Susan Straub said Hendricks has been on paid leave, but she declined to say whether Hendricks is being paid his full salary. As chief, he was the highest-paid city employee based on salary alone, making $148,379.

Straub said she was not authorized to further discuss Hendricks' employment status.

Efforts to dismiss Hendricks began Feb. 28, when Gray said a change was needed because of a "lack of leadership, failure to manage the division's budget, especially overtime, and division morale."

Gray also cited a sexual harassment investigation at the fire department that began during former Mayor Jim Newberry's administration.

The mayor gave Hendricks 24 hours to resign. After the deadline was up, the chief asked for more time to decide but never made a decision.

Nothing has been heard publicly from Hendricks since. Hendricks could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

When Hendricks did not step down, Gray directed the city's law department to look at "initiating formal proceedings" to dismiss him.

Council members said they had not been presented with any charges.

Councilman Tom Blues said Wednesday council members had been told the chief's leave was medical in nature, but Blues said he had not heard anything about Hendricks' employment.

"How the situation is going to be resolved, I don't know," he said.

Councilman Doug Martin said the council will go into closed meeting after Thursday night's meeting to discuss "litigation matters."

"It's possible we'll receive an update at that time," he said.

In Hendricks' absence, Gray appointed Keith Jackson, a 20-year veteran with the fire department and Army Reserve Battalion Commander, as interim chief.

Jackson said he could not comment on Hendricks' employment status. He has been working to stabilize the fire department's budget overruns "following the guidelines that the mayor has put into place."

Hendricks' absence has not affected day-to-day operations at the Division of Fire, he said.

"A lot of the department has stepped up and is ... working just as hard or harder as when Chief Hendricks was here," he said.

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