Third firefighter out; city officials voice support of chief

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2012

SALISBURY — A third Salisbury firefighter has lost his job in what city officials call an ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct at the department — the second such investigation to result in firings within two years.
Fire Chief Bob Parnell fired Jeremi Carter on Thursday, a day after Carter was suspended and demoted.
In a news release issued Thursday night, the city said Carter was fired for “additional information discovered during the ongoing investigation.”
Parnell fired Tim Grisham and Chet Hedrick earlier in the week.
Former captain Shawn McBride remains suspended and demoted.
Mayor Paul Woodson and several City Council members on Thursday expressed a high level of confidence in Parnell as he deals with the second scandal in as many years.
“He can get it straightened out,” Woodson said of Parnell. “He’s going to have to make sure this kind of activity doesn’t happen again.
“It may be the Fire Department, but it’s a business. I’ve got confidence that he’s going to handle it.”
Carter was initially demoted and suspended for receiving and failing to report the sharing of an “inappropriate photo” at work and failing to report activity that could have resulted in a sexual harassment claim against the department, according to a letter signed by Parnell.
Carter’s termination letter on Thursday added misconduct and insubordination as causes for dismissal, saying Carter didn’t tell his superiors about the photograph during the investigation.
Grisham was fired for sexual misconduct at work and sharing an inappropriate photo with other staff members; sexual harassment; and lying to Parnell when asked about the relationship.
Hedrick was fired for sexual misconduct — receiving inappropriate photos and sharing them with other staff members; not reporting potential sexual harassment within the department; and lying about not knowing the identity of the person in the photos.
McBride was suspended and demoted for violating sexual harassment policies.
In early 2011, Parnell fired three employees. Their termination letters were vague, but David Treme, city manager at the time, confirmed the terminations were related to sexual misconduct.
Hedrick also was suspended at the time.
On Thursday, Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said she has the “highest respect for Chief Parnell.”
Former mayor for 14 years, Kluttz worked closely with Parnell and relied on him during difficult times for the city, especially the deaths of two firefighters in the Salisbury Millwork fire in 2008. “Some of the people I respect and admire the most in our city serve in the Fire Department,” Kluttz said.
While she said she can’t comment on either investigation, Kluttz said Parnell and City Manager Doug Paris will resolve any issues in the department. “It does sadden me that we have a problem,” she said. “This is a department that I particularly respect, as I do the Police Department.
People who are willing to risk their lives for us are special people.”
Woodson praised Parnell, Paris and Zach Kyle, assistant city manger for human resources, for their handling of the investigation.
The city moved quickly to terminate and suspend the employees, acting within two days of Parnell’s first phone call to human resources.
“They responded professionally, and there was no lollygagging around,” Woodson said. “They are showing that this activity is not going to be tolerated.”
Councilman Brian Miller said Paris is keeping City Council members fully informed of the situation and expressed confidence in Parnell.
“He’s got my support,” Miller said.
Miller said he is satisfied with the way city staff and Paris are handling the investigation.
Paris said he could not answer questions about the Fire Department during the investigation. “I take these matters very seriously, and feel it would be inappropriate and unprofessional of me to comment until the investigation is finalized and complete,” he said in an email to the Post.  
Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation, and Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy could not be reached for comment.
In the news release issued Thursday, the city said the investigation “is still ongoing and not finalized.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.