By Scott Jenkins
EAST SPENCER ó Top town officials moved to dismiss the town’s fire chief Monday, just days after he claimed publicly the town had misspent grant money intended to outfit firefighters with new protective gear.
The town officials, who declined to comment on what they called a personnel matter, gave him other reasons for the firing, Chief Skipper Davis said Monday evening, but he alleges there is “a little bit of retaliation” involved.
Davis apparently still has his job, at least while he goes through the town’s grievance process. And he has the support of many of his volunteer firefighters, who showed up at a Board of Aldermen meeting Monday.
Davis said he was called into town offices Monday morning by Town Administrator Richard Hunter and Mayor Erma Jefferies. A letter signed by Jefferies and dated June 25 tells Davis he is fired.
“Effective immediately, you are hereby terminated as chief of the East Spencer Fire Department. Please be further advised that your name will be immediately deleted from the roster of the East Spencer Fire Department,” the letter says.
The letter asks Davis to turn in his keys to the Fire Department and other town buildings and a Ford Expedition used by the department, his cell phone, pager, laptop computer and other items by today.
Davis alleges the timing of the attempted firing is not a coincidence.
In a story published Friday, Davis said he had compiled information turned over the Rowan County District Attorney’s office concerning a grant the town received from Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. in 2006.
The grant was for firefighter turnout gear, but the town spent the money to buy a used ladder truck.
Hunter and Jefferies said last week they didn’t know the town couldn’t spend the money on other fire department needs without first obtaining permission from Fireman’s Fund, though an agreement signed by the mayor included that provision.
They said Davis participated in reprioritizing the town’s firefighting needs and that the highest priority became the truck when a state review determined East Spencer needed additional water-pumping capacity to protect its largest structures.
Davis says he told town officials the department needed the truck, but not at the expense of the turnout gear.
Fireman’s Fund denied the town’s request to retroactively approve a change in what the grant could buy, and directed the town to spend the grant amount, $38,510, on turnout gear, or return the money. The board approved a 2007-2008 budget Monday that included the funding for turnout gear.
District Attorney Bill Kenerly could not comment on the matter last week and could not be reached Monday. Meanwhile, Davis said in the story published Friday that he has “never had anything against me, any kind of misappropriation of funds, and I’m not going to start now.”
Davis and nearly a dozen supporters, mostly members of the town’s volunteer fire department, attended the meeting Monday at which the board adopted the budget. After the meeting, Davis handed aldermen a letter requesting a hearing before the full board.
“The Fire Department talked and we want a hearing,” Davis told aldermen. “If a decision is going to be made, it’s going to be made by the board.”
Hunter and Jefferies declined to discuss the specifics of situation with Davis, calling it a personnel issue.
However, Hunter said that as a policy matter, “I’m sure any manager or any administrator would consult a board before taking an action like this.”
And Jefferies said a hearing with the full board won’t be the first step. Davis must first meet with a grievance committee made up of three aldermen and the town attorney.
“We’re going to go through a grievance procedure, which we offered him today, which he did not understand,” Jefferies said. “Every business has personnel issues. … And all we need to do is move through the process and move on.”
While Jefferies and Hunter would not divulge the reasons behind the termination letter, Davis said they told him it had to do with unauthorized purchases and spending too much money on gasoline. Davis said he only made unauthorized purchases for Fire Department needs, such as a starter for a truck or a computer, when the requests languished at town hall.
And he said firefighters didn’t have their own accounts to buy fuel for department vehicles, so they used his, making it appear that he bought gas several times a day. He admitted to taking the SUV out of East Spencer to eat, but said he comes right back when he needs to respond to a call.
Michelle Davis, the East Spencer Fire Department’s medical lieutenant, was among those who attended the meeting and voiced her strong support for Chief Davis, who works part time for the town and full time as a paramedic.
“This man’s done more for this fire department than anybody,” she said. “This guy’s got my back at a call any time, day or night.”
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or email@example.com.
By Scott Jenkins