During a brief 10 minute meeting on May 16, the Mesquite City Council cast a split vote to terminate Fire Chief Kash Christopher “without cause.” Three councilmen, David Ballweg, George Rapson and Brian Wursten, voted in favor of the action. Councilman Rich Green voted no and Councilman Geno Withelder voted to abstain from the proposal.
Christopher was placed on unpaid administrative leave May 4 by City Manager Andy Barton following a contentious period that erupted in late April. 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 he did not do enough to stop or prevent it.
Concerns were raised as far back as May 2016 that Christopher was not complying with a clause in his contract that required him to live within 15 miles of Mesquite. Christopher was renting a condo in Mesquite from Mayor Al Litman and insisted this was his local residence. However, his family continued to live in North Las Vegas and he split his time between the two locations.
Litman read a prepared statement when the meeting began saying 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 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.
“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, “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.”
One other public comment was made in support of Christopher by Mike Benham, who heads the Civilian Emergency Response Team. “I like Chief Christopher. He’s been good to me. I’m really upset.”
No firefighters attended the meeting.
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.”
Ballweg made the motion to terminate the chief without cause meaning that Christopher was eligible for three months’ severance pay plus accrued vacation. Had the chief 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 was given a 20 percent pay increase in 2016 bringing his current salary to $112,794. He will receive approximately $28,000 in severance pay.
Barton affirmed to the Mesquite Local News that an investigation will be conducted in the alleged misconduct in the fire department by an outside source. He would not provide any specifics beyond that.