Following new grievances filed by a former Boyle County firefighter against the fire chief and the fire board, a board member said Tuesday he has quit the board and the department.
Former firefighter Rebecca Earls spoke at the fire board meeting Tuesday only to inform members she has hired an attorney. However, copies of documents she submitted to the department last week show she has filed more than 40 separate complaints and a letter asking for Chief Donnie Sexton to be suspended.
Earls was a volunteer with the department for six years until she said she resigned in 2011 because of a pattern of retaliation by Sexton, whom she claims undermined her to other firefighters and tried to hold her back from doing her job. She appeared at the board’s August meeting to revisit a grievance she filed in 2011 alleging Sexton told other firefighters to “get (Earls) burned” during a fire training exercise.
The slew of new grievances filed Sept. 6 by Earls outline allegations against Sexton and other members of the department. The allegations include disrespect, gender discrimination, potential sexual harassment, wasteful spending and subsequent retaliation against her for asking questions about financial irregularities. One of the complaints says Sexton waved a gun after a board meeting and stated he was “tired of certain members” of the fire department.
Sexton declined to comment Tuesday, but after Earls spoke at the Aug. 22 meeting, he pointed to the lack of findings from an investigation into the comment about Earls getting burned and said he had never tried to get someone hurt.
“The board investigated and found nothing,” Sexton said in August. “She has made a lot of allegations. To my knowledge, I have never gotten a firefighter hurt in 35 years in fire service, and the idea of doing something like that is unconscionable.”
Board Treasurer Rusty Cox reiterated his assurances Tuesday that the board will treat all complaints with the necessary care.
“To some people it may not seem like it, but we want people to know we take complaints seriously and we take this seriously,” Cox said, apparently referring to Earls’ most recent claims.
Earls told a reporter she has retained the attorneys Gullette & Grayson from Nicholasville. She indicated a suit of some kind will be filed but said she will have no further comment on the matters.
After returning from a lengthy executive session to discuss personnel, the board unanimously approved a motion to “seek advice from a professional” in regard to charges made against the department.
When asked by a reporter if that means the board will consult an attorney about Earls’ grievances, board Chairman Steve Hamblin declined to elaborate on what kind of professional guidance the board will be asking for or from whom.
“It meant what it said. Period, end of sentence,” Hamblin said referring to a written copy of the motion to “seek advice from a professional.”
The board’s other action after the executive session was to accept the resignation of board member Jeff Shields, the elected firefighter representative.
In an interview prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Shields said he resigned his position as one of the two elected members from the fire department’s roster and his role as a firefighter.
“I’m just frustrated nothing has been done as far as the issues Rebecca brought up and nobody wants to talk about it,” Shields said.
He added he had asked for a special meeting to discuss Earls’ charges and the way the previous investigation was handled, but he was ignored.
Earls previously criticized the internal inquiry into her claim about Sexton telling people to “get her burned” because it was conducted by the aunt of the board chairman at the time, Jonathan Wesley, whose spending she had questioned.
Shields, who also works as a Lexington firefighter, said when he finally was able to view the file on the inquiry, it included three sheets of paper: Earls’ original complaint and two copies of the same sheet of paper stating the charges had been dismissed.
When he asked where the rest of the documents from the investigation were, he was told they had been sealed and placed in Sexton’s personnel file. After his questions about why the investigation was done by Wesley’s aunt were rebuffed, Shields said he was accused by other board members of “trying to antagonize the chief” for even asking to view the file.
Shields successfully had pushed for a number of financial reforms at the department earlier this year.