Quick action on personnel

  • Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 8:39 p.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, November 29, 2012 3:33 p.m.

Say this for the new administration at Salisbury City Hall: it doesn’t drag out painful but necessary personnel actions — at least not when it comes to allegations of sexual misconduct at the Salisbury Fire Department.

Officials announced Wednesday that the city had fired two members of the Fire Department and demoted two others. The news came just 24 hours after the city announced an investigation was under way. The termination letters that Chief Bob Parnell signed made clear what violations had occurred, without going into detail. Former engineer Tim Grisham’s letter, for example, cites sexual activity at work and sharing an inappropriate photo with other staff members. The letter says he also violated the department’s sexual harassment policy and was not truthful when asked about the relationship.

Fellow firefighters must be chagrined to see their department dragged through a sex scandal again. The city terminated three firefighters and suspended another in early 2011, a process that stretched over a month or more. Termination letters given the employees — public records under North Carolina law — were vague, saying for example that termination was due to misrepresentation of facts and willful acts of misconduct. That was hardly in keeping with the spirit of the state’s public records law, which says such termination letters should include the specific acts or omissions that led to the action.

To be fair to then-City Manager David Treme, the 2011 situation was a little different. Among the employees suspended and eventually fired was a young woman who, her mother claimed, had been sexually harassed. That called for caution, but the degree of secrecy Treme maintained left the public in the dark. Though Treme would never confirm or deny it, a photo was rumored to be part of that scandal, too.

One has to wonder if this week’s firings are a continuation of the 2011 investigation — which would mean the city didn’t act quickly at all, and it left some problems in place. Whatever the case, something compelled Parnell to call the city’s personnel office Tuesday and set off an investigation. Pretty quickly, some personnel who received warnings in 2011 found themselves facing zero tolerance this week.

Which is as it should be. After the controversy and pain of early 2011, you’d think everyone in the department would walk a straight line and show discretion. The shame is that most of them do, but the actions of a few endanger the reputations of all, including the department itself. By addressing the matter quickly and openly, City Manager Doug Paris got out in front of this story, serving the city and its citizens well. Parnell and his department need to put this incident behind them and move on.

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