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The Carthage Press
  • Mayor Harris: Allegations against fire chief based on personal matter

  • The allegations raised by residents against Fire Chief Chris Thompson at Tuesday's Carthage City Council meeting were based on a personal matter, or matters that had already been dealt with, and the chief has the full support of the city.
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  • The allegations raised by residents against Fire Chief Chris Thompson at Tuesday's Carthage City Council meeting were based on a personal matter, or matters that had already been dealt with, and the chief has the full support of the city.
    That was the message from Carthage Mayor Mike Harris one day after the meeting in which residents asked the city to fire the fire chief for misconduct and abusive behavior against his staff and two days after the city received a letter of no confidence in Thompson from the firefighters on the staff.
    A number of Carthage City Council members, however, said they were not behind the fire chief and would continue to push the city to take some kind of action.
    Memo to staff
    Harris said Thompson, with the Mayor's permission, sent out a memo to the fire department staff that laid out Thompson's intention to try to make a fresh start.
    "I know he was apologetic and wants to basically start fresh and rebuild his department the way it should be done, and that he has the support of the city," Harris said. "That was written prior to the meeting yesterday, but I asked him not to release it until we had the meeting in case something surfaced that I didn't know about. I called him this morning and told him he could release it and he has the city's support."
    Retired Carthage Fire Marshall Tom Nixon, who was one of the people who asked the city to fire Thompson, said he was disappointed and he thought the firefighters would suffer.
    "I'm sorry for the guys because they will pay for this, I do believe that," Nixon said on Wednesday. "He'll have several of them in his crosshairs and it's a shame the fire department will suffer for this."
    Thompson did not return a message left on his cell phone on Wednesday seeking comment about the memo sent to firefighter. He declined on Tuesday to talk about the allegations made by the speakers in the city council meeting.
    Harris said he didn't tell Thompson not to talk about the situation, but the most recent matter involving explicit text messages to a former firefighter's wife, was very personal between Thompson and the former firefighter that shouldn't be discussed in public.
    "Basically it is an extremely private matter between him and another person that has been made public by someone else," Harris said. "When this first came up, I did talk with him about how going after each other publicly would not be a good idea. There is some point where you just have to take it and he did a good job of that last night."
    Vote irrelevant
    Harris said the no-confidence letter from the firefighters had no bearing on the city's decision regarding Thompson.
    Page 2 of 3 - In the letter, firefighters said 14 of the 18 firefighters in the department voted that they did not have confidence in Thompson's leadership because of "numerous acts of misconduct, and abuse of authority, as well as his poor tactical and personal decision making."
    The letter was presented to the Mayor on Monday and to the Council on Tuesday.
    "I think the letter from the firefighters pretty much is (unprecedented) and it also has no bearing on anything," Harris said. "They even mention that in the letter, that they understand that we don't have to act on this. But can you imagine a situation where a group of your employees can tell the boss that they're not happy with the way he's doing it, so we want to get rid of him."
    Harris said other allegations brought up in the meeting were either untrue, blown out of proportion or more than two years old and already dealt with by the city.
    Harris said he was bothered by the allegation that he and City Administrator Tom Short had tried to hide things from the public.
    "The only allegations that bothered me personally was continually saying that the mayor and the city administrator swept this under the carpet," Harris said. "They have referred to that over incidents that  happened over two years ago. Those incidents were investigated according to the city's policy manual. Each individual in the fire department was interviewed by both the city administrator and the mayor and the allegations were tempered quite a bit and it was dealt with according to the policy and procedure manual."
    Council responds
    A poll of Carthage City Council members shows a split among the 10 people on the council, and no one who was contacted came out in support of Thompson.
    The Carthage Press was able to contact six of the 10 council members. Three of them said they are definitely not behind the fire chief, while three said they needed more information or didn't have a comment on the issue.
    "I am not behind him," said Fifth Ward Council Member Ed Hardesty. "There are too many incidents of problems with citizens and problems with his management of the department, even including bullying. I just heard of another incident and, yeah, it was four years ago, but it's all about character. It doesn't matter if the stuff is two years old or four years old or happened yesterday, it shows a pattern of behavior and there's too damn much of it."
    Hardesty said he planned to bring the matter up at future meetings.
    Third Ward Council Member Steve Leibbrand agreed with Hardesty.
    "I am thoroughly disgusted with what I heard," Leibbrand said. "I was incensed three weeks ago when I got a call while I was at Fort Knox about what was happening. Maybe some of it was a little bit of stretching of the truth, there sure is a lot of it, and Chris hasn't denied it. I got three calls from residents today asking why the council didn't pursue any votes on the matter in the closed session."
    Page 3 of 3 - Fourth Ward Council Member Lee Carlson also said he was sad that the council even had to talk about this, but he did not support the fire chief either.
    "I'm a city council member for the city, not a city council member for one person," Carlson said. "I do not support what the chief has done."
    Council members Dan Rife, from the Fourth Ward and Paul McCoy, from the Second Ward, said they didn't have enough information to come to a conclusion at this time and would wait before making a judgement.
    Second Ward Council Member Larry Chapin said he didn't have a comment at this time.
    The Press was unable to contact First Ward Council Members Kirby Newport and Jim Swatsenbarg, Third Ward Council Member Brady Beckham or Fifth Ward Council Member Jason Shelfer at press time on Wednesday.

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