Former Fire Chief files legal action against city

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After he was terminated from his position in May, former Mesquite Fire and Rescue Chief Kash Cristopher filed a legal complaint against the city with the state Employee-Management Relations Board. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

Former Mesquite Fire and Rescue Chief Kash Cristopher filed a complaint against the city of Mesquite with the State of Nevada Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board after he was terminated by the Mesquite City Council on May 16.

The action was filed on June 12 by Christopher’s attorney Adam Levine who is also the attorney of record for the Teamsters Local 14 firefighters union. City Attorney Bob Sweetin filed the city’s initial response to the state board on July 3. The city’s insurance agency has now assumed responsibility and costs associated with this action.

According to legal documents, Christopher cites two primary allegations that he says unlawfully caused his termination: “Terminating the employment of a local government employee because he refuses to commit a prohibited labor practice and/or informing an employee who was to be the victim of such a prohibited labor practice to seek the assistance of his union violates [NRS].”

And “Terminating the employment of a local government employee because his wife refuses to live with him within the territorial limits of the local government constitutes discrimination for personal reasons in violation of [Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS)].

The city has denied both allegations contained in the complaint.

Christopher alleges that on May 1 Mesquite City Manager Andy Barton told him “that the City Council did not like the fact that his wife did not reside with him in the City of Mesquite.”

The council held a special meeting on May 16 at which time three councilmen, Brian Wursten, George Rapson and David Ballweg voted to terminate Christopher “without cause.” Councilman Rich Green voted no and Councilman Geno Withelder voted to abstain from the action.

In his complaint, Christopher says that “In an open meeting Councilmember(s) confirmed that the reason Christopher was being terminated was the fact that his wife did not reside with him in the City of Mesquite, and because he told a Fire Captain to seek the assistance of his union.”

However, video recordings of the May 16 meeting available on the city’s web site do not support that. Withelder was the only councilman who made comments during the meeting saying he was shocked to read the headlines in the newspaper about Christopher’s potential termination. “I’m not happy with the outcome of what’s been transpiring. I thought Chief Christopher did an absolutely marvelous job in the short time he’s been here. I’m sorry to see it come down this way. I guess it’s too late to mend any fences or patch up any holes.”

Mayor Litman, who was not eligible to vote on the measure, and from whom Christopher was renting a condo in Mesquite, read a prepared statement when the meeting first began.

Litman said he was completely opposed to terminating Christopher’s employment. “I have never been presented with any evidence of any wrongdoing by Chief Christopher or any member of our fire department. If Chief Christopher is not supported by his staff, I have seen no evidence of that.”

Litman addressed concerns that Christopher did not live in Mesquite as required by his contract. “I am prepared to testify under oath that he was here as a resident approximately five days a week. Recent articles in the local press said he split his time between here and Las Vegas. This is untrue as most days were spent in Mesquite as well as many nights,” he said. Litman did not disclose that Christopher was renting a condo that Litman owned.

“The actions today by this city council will only serve to create another black eye and will accomplish nothing to better our city,” Litman said.

Christopher addressed the mayor and council saying “Two weeks ago in a conversation I had with Mr. Barton the council was seeking my resignation or termination because they didn’t feel I did enough after an investigation I conducted in the fire department in November. I advised the captain [who was allegedly at the center of the investigation] to seek union representation regarding another investigation. And, my wife’s residency in North Las Vegas. Are those the reasons?”

Litman answered him, “I believe so.”

“This is a witch hunt,” Christopher said. “I’m not going to spend all day talking about it. Because it is a witch hunt. The third reason is what I’m going to talk about. If my wife wants to lay her head in Mesquite, North Las Vegas or if she wants to go back to Honduras to live, that’s her business. It’s nobody else’s business where my wife lives.”

Christopher’s complaint also alleged that he had been directed to either suspend a fire captain or put him on probation, and to transfer a subordinate employee to a different shift. Allegations of sexual misconduct between the captain and employee had been the subject of an investigation from which Christopher’s complaint says “no credible evidence of any misconduct was established.”

In its answer, the city admitted the investigation and its outcome but refuted that “Christopher, with the assistance of City of Mesquite Human Resources, conducted the investigation.” [emphasis added]

The legal document points out that “placing a post-probationary employee back on probation, or alternatively suspending an employee without evidence of wrongdoing obtained through an investigation” were not authorized disciplinary procedures in the union contract.

The document also says that firefighters have the right to bid on shifts and the city was not permitted to “transfer firefighters to different shifts in connection with disciplinary investigations.”

According to the complaint, Barton gave Christopher a letter on May 4 placing him on “administrative leave without pay ‘pending City Council review of your previously tendered offer of resignation.’ Christopher had not previously tendered any offer of resignation.”

In responding to that, the city agreed that Barton gave Christopher the letter but denied the portion of Christopher’s complaint that he had not previously tendered any offer of resignation. City officials would not offer any further clarification than that to the Mesquite Local News.

Christopher is asking the employee-management relations board to “issue a finding that the City of Mesquite has engaged in one or more prohibited labor practices” and require the city to post public notices about it. He is also asking to be reinstated in his former position “with retroactive back pay and benefits, and for an award of attorney’s fees and costs.”

The city is requesting the board to judge in its favor and to be awarded “its attorney’s fees and costs for having to defend this action.”

Levine and Christopher did not return requests for comments about this action.

According to his contract, and that the action was taken without cause, Christopher was eligible for three months’ severance pay, approximately $28,000, plus accrued vacation. Had he been fired with cause he would not have been eligible for any compensation.

Christopher was hired as the Mesquite Fire Department Chief in June 2014 and received a 20 percent pay increase in 2016 bringing his current salary to $112,794.

 

 

Comments

  1. Steve Clutterham says:

    Witch hunt by both the council and local media. Reinstate the man.

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