Investigation into workplace intimidation, harassment initiated by Mehlville fire-district board

Board chairman says ‘massive shakeup could be coming out of this’

By MIKE ANTHONY

An investigation into “workplace intimidation and harassment” has been initiated by the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to adopt a resolution stating an investigation has been initiated “into personnel issues pertaining to workplace intimidation and harassment … Each and every employee of the Mehlville Fire Protection District shall comply with said investigation. If not, each employee may face discipline up to and including termination.”

Board members also voted unanimously April 22 to hire Metro Security to assist in the investigation at a cost of $75 per hour, according to Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer.

During an April 22 closed session, board members voted unanimously to suspend two employees with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

Mathew Hoffman, the fire district’s legal counsel, declined to release the names of the two employees, saying no final action has been taken by the board regarding the employees.

“Further, they have been suspended with pay pending the ongoing investigation and they have not had the opportunity to fully hear or address the facts, nor have they been interviewed,” Hoffman told the Call.

John Goffstein, an attorney representing Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters told the Call that union employees will cooperate fully with the investigation.

“There’ll be full cooperation, I can tell you that,” he said. “At least my initial review, it doesn’t look like anybody did anything wrong.”

Local 1889 President Bob Strinni was unavailable for comment before press time.

Of the investigation, Hilmer told the Call, “This is the beginning of what could be an all-encompassing change of how business is done at the district. And while it’s early into it, it’s very possible to say a massive shakeup could be coming out of this. It will probably end up being an overhaul of all of our rules and more importantly with the enforcement of them.

“We’re probably going to have to bring in outside help before this is done as far as a consulting firm or someone to help restore discipline, help restore a chain of command at the fire district, and one of the biggest things that jumps out is it’s a real safety issue,” he continued. “This is now the board’s No. 1 priority to remedy this and we’re going to use every resource at our disposal to effectuate that.”

Asked how long he anticipated the investigation would take, Hilmer said, “While we hope to accomplish it quickly, we want to find the truth of what’s been going on there. It’s something we never really realized before. We got there. We cleaned up the finances. We’ve cleaned up the infrastructure. We’ve hired more qualified employees, but it’s coming to light that there’s a total breakdown in the chain of command there. And so I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”