City settles with former fire chief amid fireworks

It seemed like it would be a placid meeting of the Mesquite City Council but it ended up with Mayor Al Litman telling Councilman Dave Ballweg in public to “kiss my a—.”

The council met on Tuesday, Dec. 19 to affirm a settlement with former Mesquite Fire and Rescue Chief Kash Christopher, who was terminated without cause in May.

Though Christopher accepted his contractual severance after the May meeting, he filed a claim against the city with the Nevada Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board (EMRB) alleging that the termination was for cause. He received $26,029 in severance pay plus health and retirement benefits in May. His new request was for about $40,000 more.

The term “without cause” means no reason must be given verbally or publicly for a termination. However, it doesn’t mean there were no real reasons for the termination. The term also provides the employee with a set amount of salary and benefits upon leaving.

In his EMRB complaint, Christopher alleged that “the city discriminated against the right of his spouse to live in Las Vegas and that the city engaged in a prohibited labor practice by making him feel he could not advocate on behalf of union member interests, even when such advocacy was to the detriment of city management.”

Christopher’s attorney, Adam Levine, is also the attorney for the union local that represents fire department employees.

At the May meeting when Christopher was terminated, Litman read a prepared statement saying “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 said.

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.

Christopher addressed the mayor and council saying “Two weeks ago in a conversation I had with Mr. Barton [city manager] that 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, “I believe so.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, during which no council vote was required, Ballweg read a prepared statement repeating the words Litman said at the May meeting. “At the May meeting Mayor Litman chose to express his opinion that there was ‘cause’ for the action. The Mayor’s comments were the basis used by Mr. Christopher to bring this action against the city.”

In his statement, Ballweg accused the mayor of breaking attorney-client privilege that incurred when council, the mayor and the city attorney discussed the issue behind closed doors in April and May. “In consideration of the confidentiality of the attorney-client privilege meeting, I cannot provide details of what was discussed. However, I can advise what was not discussed. The subject of Mr. Christopher’s residency or his wife’s residency was never a topic of discussion or any part of the reason for consideration of termination.

In addressing Litman’s comments about Christopher spending “many nights” in Mesquite as proof of his residency, Ballweg said “was the mayor performing some kind of bed-check to make sure this was being done?”

Christopher was placed on unpaid administrative leave May 4 by City Manager Andy Barton. Alleged employee dissatisfaction with Christopher and allegations of sexual misconduct between management and employees in the fire department were part of the mix. According to sources, Christopher was not part of the alleged misconduct. However, employees allege that he did not do enough to stop or prevent it.

A subsequent investigation by an outside source did not reveal any evidence of misconduct by fire department employees.

Beginning in 2016 concerns were raised that Christopher was not complying with a clause in his contract that required him to live within 15 miles of Mesquite. Christopher insisted that the condo he was renting from the mayor was his local residence. However, his family continued to live in North Las Vegas and he split his time between the two locations.

Christopher subsequently took a job with the United States government in Japan earlier this fall.

Before Christopher was terminated, he asked City Manager Andy Barton for a settlement whereby he would resign in exchange for six months’ severance pay, instead of the contractually obligated three months. Later, without explanation, Christopher decided he didn’t want to resign and would not accept the six months’ salary severance he previously offered.

In responding to the EMRB complaint, the city denied Christopher’s claims and had been preparing for an early January hearing with the EMRB. The city also coordinated with its insurance provider, Travelers Insurance, which approved legal defense costs for the case. The insurer also appointed its own attorneys and reserved future decision regarding damages or settlement costs.

City documents say that earlier this month Christopher reached out directly to Barton rather than through his attorney seeking to resolve the matter. He asked for the originally offered six months of salary and payment of his remaining sick leave. Christopher also asked for $1,933 in cash, which was an estimate of travel and lodging costs for city officials who would be required to attend the hearing in Las Vegas.

After reviewing the agreement, Travelers agreed to approve the settlement, thereby relieving the city from any financial obligation.

Christopher was hired as the fire chief in June 2014 and was given a 20 percent pay increase in 2016 bringing his salary to $112,794.

Comments

  1. Steve Clutterham says:

    Dave Ballweg should be ashamed of himself. This lawsuit was brought because he and Brian Wursten decided as new board members their first big move should be to show they are the “moral majority” is this town and somehow got George Rapson to be the third wheel in disposing of Christopher for their own personal reasons.
    Dave always says he answers to his constituent’s desires and does what’s best for them. In reality, he simply does what he wants, when he wants, and makes the rest of us sit and listen to him talk like we, the citizens of Mesquite are too stupid to understand the things he knows. To this day none of them have told us, the people who pay them and chief Christopher why he was fired. It was a witch hunt, pure and simple.
    I was at all of the council meetings involving this and told them each time that this would obviously result in a law suit. That fact that it did has zero to do with anything mayor Litman said. The mayor is the only one then or now who was willing to tell the public what they knew about why chief Christopher was being fired, which was nothing.

  2. TonyHardway says:

    We have owned a home here in Mesquite since April 1997 The best Fire Chief was Christopher and the Best Police Chief is Tanner when will the Council big three rid Tanner from us

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