After more than five months of investigation into the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, Mayor Jim Wetherington has decided to issue a written reprimand to Chief Jeff Meyer.
Wetherington called for the investigation in mid-December after it was reported by the Ledger-Enquirer that an on-duty firefighter Zachary Allen, the son of Councilor Gary Allen, tested positive for cocaine in a post-accident drug test. Allen resigned the day after the November 2006 wreck.
The investigation found that allegations that Allen received preferential treatment because of who his father was were "unfounded," Wetherington said Friday morning at a news conference in his office.
There was no recommendation for any actions made in the report, which was complied by the Columbus Police Department's Office of Professional Standards.
Never miss a local story.
Wetherington said he considered termination and suspension of Meyer because of a rash of issues in the department, but ultimately decided on the reprimand.
"I still got confidence in him," Wetherington said.
The executive summary delivered to Wetherington this week was more than 60 pages. The entire report, which includes transcripts of 57 interviews, was 11 volumes.
One of the issues was a letter of recommendation Allen used to apply for a firefighter's job in LaGrange, Ga., three months after the wreck.
In Allen's LaGrange application package, the letter of recommendation apparently from Deputy Chief David Starling, who knew of Allen's positive drug test and suspension the night it happened.
The investigation determined that Starling was "deceptive" in his interview with investigators. He was given a lie detector test.
Any personnel action taken against Starling will be up to Meyer, Wetherington said.
Meyer did not attend the news conference, but he did meet with Wetherington and City Manager Isaiah Hugley prior to the news conference.
The police department, Fire and EMS and the city's Risk Management Department all investigated the Nov. 28, 2006, wreck in which LaLinriafaye Wilson was injured. Wilson's attorney, Ben Philips, threatened a $2 million lawsuit against the city. The first report of Allen's wreck surfaced Dec. 9, 2007 when Philips and the city were in settlement talks. Columbus Council held a closed session in November 2007 to discuss a possible settlement with Wilson. Gary Allen did not participate in that meeting.
Zachary Allen was never charged by police, and the document showing the positive drug test was never sent to the police.
Allen tested positive for cocaine an hour and 15 minutes after the wreck. An initial internal report by the Fire and EMS stated that Allen's drug and alcohol test results were negative. That report was later amended and Fire and EMS Sgt. Monica Carstarphen, who conducted the internal investigation, was counseled by Chief Jeff Meyer for putting unverifiable information on a report. She admitted she assumed the drug test was negative.
The second report on file with the city's risk management office stated Allen was taken for a drug test, but it did not include reveal the results. Philips, the attorney representing the injured woman, and Carstarphen said they did not know of the positive drug test until they were informed by a reporter.
Two days before he called for the police investigation, Wetherington said in an interview that no city employees will face disciplinary action for their roles in the investigation of Allen's wreck.
"I don't think there was a cover-up," Wetherington said on Dec. 10. "There were mistakes made that should not have been made."
Since the Allen investigation began, there have been a number of issues in the Fire and EMS Department.
Firefighter John Thomas, now a sergeant, was passed over for a fire inspector/lieutenant promotion despite having the highest score in the interview process. When Thomas threatened to file a grievance because he had been told by one of the interviewers the job would go to the highest scoring of the five applicants, Meyer offered Thomas a newly created fire recruiter job, according to documents obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer through Georgia's Open Records Act.
The problem was that the recruiting job, though it had been previously discussed by Meyer and Wetherington, had not been authorized by Columbus Council.
Shortly after completing paperwork for the promotion in October, the Fire and EMS was notified by the city's Human Resources Department the slot didn't exist.
Thomas continued to work in the recruiting position without a pay increase or the sergeant's rank. The firefighter filed a grievance in March. Two weeks later, City Manager Isaiah Hugley temporarily approved the new recruiting position until council can incorporate it in the 2009 fiscal budget next month. Thomas was also granted more than $1,600 in back pay.
Thomas has filed a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleges discrimination.
Wetherington said the chief's actions in the Thomas case were "not acceptable."
Capt. Mary Simonton filed a complaint late last year about the promotional process. She was one of five candidates to apply for a deputy chief's job that went to Greg Lang, who was promoted from fire marshal.
The city's Human Resources Department found her complaint had no merit but did express concerns about the manner in which the interview was conducted.
Simonton was interviewed by Meyer and Assistant Chief Jerry Fountain after a leadership class at the department's training center. The interview was conducted outside while Fountain and Meyer smoked cigarettes and the smoke blew in her face, Simonton wrote in her complaint.
Simonton has since filed an EEOC complaint.
A firefighter was fired in March for looking at objectionable images on a city computer while on duty.
Joshua Alford was originally disciplined by his supervisors and put on probation but was later fired by the chief. That termination was appealed to the city's Personnel Review Board.
Last month, the Columbus Firefighters Association voted to join the International Association of Firefighters, a labor group that represents more than 287,000 people worldwide.
The Simonton and Thomas situations were addressed in Wetherington's reprimand of Meyer.