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.
Board members, including Cox, credited Shields with helping to reign in spending and establish standard operating procedures previously lacking in the department. A list of Shields’ recommendations for ways to reign in spending were adopted in some form.
One of the things Shields and other board members found during a review of 2011 finances were credit cards being used regularly at restaurants and big box stores, including locations in other cities. The practice apparently was stopped.
One example Shields gave was about $4,500 spent on drinks alone during a six-month period. Shields said he was blamed for pointing out the beverage budget after no drinks were provided at a future training. Shields said he also was singled out for questioning why the department’s Christmas party — which he said cost between $7,000 and $8,000 — was so expensive. He said much of the money went to gifts of firefighting gear for the department’s members.
Overall, Shields said the department was spending more than $70,000 a month in 2011. Expenditures have been cut to less than $30,000 per month since earlier this year.
Shields backs up many of Earls’ claims, including Sexton’s use of expensive gear to reward those who were in his favor. He said it was clear that some people “were wearing t-shirts, while others had closets full of gear.”
Other concerns were related more directly to the department’s ability to fight fires.
Shields had been critical of Sexton’s failure to replace the tanker truck that rolled over on Ky. 52 in April 2011. A tanker was moved to the central station from Station 6 in Forkland, which has a considerably smaller call volume, but Shields said he is worried the other two stations that would be asked to respond to Forkland — Stations 3 and 5 — would take too long getting over the knobs.
Shields also scrutinized the $300,000 in insurance money the department received for the totaled tanker, which he said was in danger of being dipped into because it remained in the general fund up until January of this year.
That money has since been placed in a separate account, but a new truck has not been purchased. The board voted to approve specifications Sexton and other command staff decided on for a new tanker, which he said will be put out for bids soon.
After the August board meeting, the chief said the department needed to finish the purchase of new digital radios before buying the new truck. He said the decision to move the tanker from Forkland was necessary because it was needed in the area where there is higher call volume. He said Station 6 still has an engine and utility truck, and Stations 3 and 5 will be able to respond with a tanker.
Ultimately, Shields said he doesn’t have reason to believe money was taken illegally for personal gain by Sexton. He said he was happy the board — Cox and new member Philip Nichols in particular — had supported his efforts to make changes, but he questioned whether the group as a whole is resolved to get to the bottom of similar issues going forward.