Bradley George will remain the chief of the Paint Creek Joint/EMS Fire District, but not until he serves a 30-day unpaid suspension after the Paint Creek board found validity to three charges against him.
The board voted by a slim 5-4 margin against a motion to terminate George as chief. But the board agreed to suspend him 30 days, unpaid, with a caveat that when he returns he will have to follow certain guidelines as chief and in regard to running the sprawling Paint Creek district.
The most serious issue that emerged during Tuesday’s meeting was unpaid overtime that could amount from anywhere to $60,000 to $80,000, according to testimony.
George has been on suspension since early July. The roughly two months he has been off work will be paid, according to the decision made Tuesday.
Charges against George included malfeasance, gross negligence, and failure to show good behavior.
The board held a hearing for George that began at 2 p.m. An executive session was then held that lasted from 4:24 p.m. until 6:17 p.m.
Overseeing the hearing was former Clinton County Prosecutor Bill Peelle.
Andrew Esposito of Clemans, Nelson & Associates, a Columbus business management consulting firm, conducted the “lengthy investigation” into the allegations against George, he said.
George was represented by attorney Robert Judkins, who is Madison Township County Court judge.
Board members heard testimony from George; the district’s assistant chief, Chad Hamilton; district fiscal officer Jackie Emerick; Greenfield Police Chief Tim Hester; Greenfield Finance Director Carolyn Snodgrass; and Brian Butcher, also with Clemans, Nelson & Associates.
Much of the testimony centered on emails between George and Butcher in regard to how and when to pay overtime to part-time employees.
George acknowledged there was confusion as to how to pay the part-timers in regard to scheduled time versus a part-time employee picking up an unscheduled shift. He addressed questions on the matter to Butcher.
According to testimony, at one point in an email Butcher offered the standard for part-time firefighters as 212 hours in a 28-day cycle. Anything over that, he said, was overtime.
Under Judkins’ questioning, Butcher said that firefighters are the “most confusing and most complex public employee.”
“One example” of overtime not being paid offered by Esposito was a part-time employee for a month’s time in 2013 working more than 600 hours, but who wasn’t paid overtime for the excess over 212 hours.
Emerick said she paid the time sheets as delivered to her by the chief. She said when she was aware of no overtime for part-time employees, she saw a time sheet of a part-timer with overtime and questioned George. She said he “basically said” that that particular employee “knew more about rules and stuff” and could cause some trouble, so the overtime was to be paid.
But George testified later that he could not see himself “making that statement.”
Hamilton said under oath that in a review of “multiple documents,” discrepancies were found. He said part-time employees were being paid “two different ways.”
Hester testified as to how the officers in his department are paid and the role of Carolyn Snodgrass, Greenfield’s finance director, on the matter.
As to the working relationship with George, Hester said, “I’ve relied on him heavily throughout the years, and he always comes through.”
George addressed a charge of overlapping time between a time sheet showing an eight-hour day with the district and more than 13 hours with the McClain swim team, which he coaches, and drove the team to a meet on the February day under question.
Judkins noted that the time sheet showed no in or out time, and said that was because George said he didn’t work that day. He said his time sheet should have been marked as comp time, but he overlooked it before signing the paper.
When Judkins asked George about what would happen if the board decided not to remove him, he said if there was a problem, he wanted to get to the bottom of it. He said he had no vengeful thoughts. He said he wanted to see the district maintain the service it has provided for six years.
He attributed the success of the district to its people and to its staff.
“This is not a job, this has been my life,” George said.
Prior to the executive session, Esposito said in his closing remarks that the unpaid overtime will cost the district between $60,000 and $80,000.
After the roughly two hours of testimony and another nearly two hours of executive session, the board reconvened and found that the charges against George had been established as true.
The charges alleged that George failed to pay overtime correctly, that he instructed the district’s fiscal officer to pay some people overtime and not others, and he did not report his own time correctly in February.
Emerging from executive session, board president Dan Mathews said that the board felt “there had been infractions” and that the matter would be opened for discussion.
Bill Redenbaugh, who represents Greenfield on the board, said to George, “You need to know that this was quite difficult for this board.”
He said the nine board members “pretty much agreed” as to the charges and it was the board’s determination to “affect some sort of process at this point.”
“We think in the form of a district more than anything else,” Redenbaugh said.
“Yes sir,” was George’s barely audible reply.
Board member Steve Edingfield said, “This is taxpayer money,” and that was something George was charged with watching, he said.
Board member Travis Mootz said that he had trusted George as chief. He said he “felt like” George let him down, and the taxpayers, too.
“I was pretty disappointed,” board member Randy Mustard said. “That’s a lot of dollars.”
Board member Jerry Williams said he and George were longtime friends. “I always looked for you to take care of things. Maybe we did that too much as a board.”
Williams spoke about the “cost to the taxpayers,” adding “We are going to make it right with the guys.”
“This shouldn’t have happened,” Willams said. He said he remembered asking George on multiple occasions if the chief could do what he was doing and George had said he could.
“That wasn’t true,” Williams said.
At the direction of Peelle, after each charge had been voted on and found to have been established as true, Redenbaugh, who voted yes on only two of the charges, offered a recommendation of a 30-day, unpaid suspension “with guidelines upon return.”
Mathews said, “I feel the same way.”
Mootz said that he felt the charges were “serious,” and “grounds for termination.” Edingfield echoed the thought.
Mootz made a motion for termination, which was seconded by Edingfield.
“It’s not an easy decision, not something any of us wanted to sit here and talk about,” Mootz said to George. “It’s nothing personal.”
To carry, the motion needed six votes, but received only four with Mootz, Edingfield, Mustard, and Williams voting yes.
Redenbaugh made a motion of his previous recommendation of a 30-day unpaid suspension, which passed with all nine members saying “yes.”
Following the hearing, George declined to comment, but Judkins said, “I think the board made a careful and well thought-out decision.”
He said he knew “it was difficult for them,” but he believed they considered George’s dedication to the district.
Williams and Mustard, also after the hearing, said the biggest issue for them was the taxpayer money.
“It’s tough to make that kind of decision,” Williams said.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.