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The Carthage Press
  • Opinion: A deeper look is needed into allegations against chief

  • The Carthage Fire Department is in crisis and city leaders need to do more to resolve this crisis than simply proclaim it over.
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  • The Carthage Fire Department is in crisis and city leaders need to do more to resolve this crisis than simply proclaim it over.
    At the heart of the crisis is a letter of no confidence in Fire Chief Chris Thompson sent to Mayor Mike Harris and City Administrator Tom Short by Carthage firefighters.
    Fourteen of the city's 18 firefighters, in a vote witnessed by Deputy Chief Roger Williams and City Council Member Ed Hardesty, said they didn't have confidence in their chief and asked for his dismissal.
    Harris has said their opinions are based on "a personal matter, not an official one," and their letter is irrelevant to the city's decision to let Thompson stay as fire chief.
    We disagree.
    This letter combined with the Aug. 5 written complaint from former firefighter Josh Anderson, and other complaints that have apparently been filed in the past, demand more than just a brief examination and a proclamation by the mayor that the situation is resolved and the fire chief has "the support of the city."
    Anderson accused Thompson of texting his wife, trying to seduce her and offering her the possibility of a city job at the Carthage fire station.
    The other incident we know of involved Thompson taking a knife to a fire department officer's shirt after that officer allegedly dismissed Thompson's comment that the shirt had a hole in it.
    Harris has acknowledged that it happened, but says it's irrelevant because it was dealt with more than two years ago, and it was a minor incident that has been blown out of proportion.
    Thompson, in a note sent to the fire department staff on Wednesday with the Mayor's permission, acknowledged that, "my personal decisions have in no doubt damaged relationships here in the department. I openly admitted this to each crew and apologized to each of you, then even offered you an opportunity to express your disappointment in me."
    Residents of Carthage deserve to know the full extent of what has been happening in the fire department. It can't be said often enough, this department protects our lives and must be run professionally, by people who are above reproach.
    If true, these incidents and others we've been told about would show that Thompson lacks good judgment. He's been accused of intimidating his own staff and even some residents.
    He is the fire chief, with responsibility for $1.5 million of the city's $12 million budget, not to mention the lives of the people under his authority, and the residents of Carthage and the rural fire protection district. Public confidence in his professional decision-making is important.
    Mayor Harris called the letter of no-confidence from the firefighters unprecedented, and yes it is in Carthage's history, but it's not unprecedented among fire departments around the nation.
    Page 2 of 2 - We found newspaper articles just this year about firefighters sending letters of no-confidence in their chiefs in Garden Grove, Calif.; Westlaco, Texas; North Kingston, Rhode Island and Newton, Iowa.
    The results of these letters seemed mixed. According to the website Omaha.com, in Newton, Iowa, the mayor and city administrator said they thought the fire chief had been performing "at a high level," but the city agreed to hire someone from the outside to conduct a fact-finding investigation.
    A letter of no-confidence is the tool firefighters use to tell officials they believe something is seriously wrong with their leadership.
    The fact that 14 of 18 firefighters, including men who have worked in Carthage for years, are willing to put their jobs on the line can't simply be waved away.
    The 10 members of the Carthage City Council are not unanimous in its support of Harris and the fire chief, and must step up in this discussion. The Council is the final arbiter of what will happen in this matter, and they need to take a close look at the situation.
    At the very least, an independent fact-finding investigation may be needed. Mayor Harris has shown where he stands on the matter, and the city administrator works at the pleasure of the mayor, so they've disqualified themselves from conducting such an investigation. City Attorney Nate Dally put comments on Facebook page last week that indicate he supports the fire chief despite the accusations against him so he can't look into the matter.
    If the Council receives information that shows that the accusations against Thompson are overblown, then Thompson deserves some measure of vindication, but it's vital that the results of any investigation come from an independent source and are made public, not discussed in closed session under the cloak of a "personnel matter."
    It will take seven members of the council to force any action if Mayor Harris decided to oppose it, and none of six members contacted by The Carthage Press last week gave Thompson their unqualified support. Three indicated they did not support the decision to leave him in command and three said they needed more information about the situation.
    This is too serious a matter. The future of a department that is planning to build a new fire station and permanently expand its numbers is at stake. Residents deserve to know that the man in charge is the right person for the job.
    Editorial with The Press

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