Without discussion or questions, and taking only a few short minutes, the Mesquite City Council appointed Mesquite Police Chief Troy Tanner as Interim Administrator for Mesquite Fire and Rescue Department at its meeting Tuesday, July 11.
Tanner’s appointment temporarily fills a vacancy left when the council terminated former Fire Chief Kash Cristopher May 16 “without cause.”
Introducing the agenda item, Mesquite City Manager Andy Barton said the move would offer both stability and familiarity for department and city staff. “After the departure of Chief Christopher in May, staff has been evaluating several options for a longer-term management solution in the fire department. This remains a challenging issue because of the frequent turnovers in that department at the executive level—two chiefs have left this organization within a three-year time frame–this is both difficult and disruptive for departmental staff.”
Christopher was hired as Fire Chief in March 2014 after the previous Fire Chief John Higley resigned in November 2013. Higley had served in the position for about three years.
Tanner will remain as the city’s police chief as he has been since 2011. He has been with the police department for more than 20 years. In addition to his regular police chief salary he will receive a 12 percent stipend during the interim period amounting to about $15,000.
Christopher’s salary at the time he was terminated was $112,794. That is the amount the city has budgeted for the position in the current fiscal year. “The cost to the city for letting Chief Tanner undertake this assignment is substantially less than recruiting an interim chief,” Barton said.
Barton added that the appointment will last a minimum of six months after which Barton will evaluate and determine the need to continue Tanner’s appointment on a month-to-month basis. Saying that Tanner had worked closely with Mesquite Fire and Rescue in the past, Barton added, “I believe this proposal will be successful because it serves as a bridge to an organizationally healthier, independent fire department. Chief Tanner will be able to bring stability to the department and will help us to identify the next fire chief.”
Tanner’s primary responsibility will be to “evaluate both the organizational structure and department personnel, and make appropriate managerial changes” Barton said.
At the end of the interim appointment, Barton said he expects Tanner to recommend the next fire chief, ideally from within the department, with Barton making the permanent selection.
“This will be the first of two critical evaluations of the fire department in this fiscal year. The other is a funded evaluation of fire department transport policy. Collectively, I believe both efforts will improve the organizational structure and service delivery in the department,” Barton said.
After the council meeting, Tanner said he appreciated the council’s trust in his ability to move the fire department forward. “I look forward to the challenge but I would like to be clear I am not trying to become a fireman or paramedic. I am your police chief,” Tanner said. “This is not about being a fireman. It’s about providing consistency and leadership and identifying leaders with the fire department. I have 22 years of public safety experience in Mesquite. My goal, as it always has been, is to ensure the safety and best service to the people and visitors to our community and make sure our police and firefighters go home each night safely to their families.”
He added he intends to interview all fire personnel and use their ideas and understanding on how to improve areas of concern and that he will work through the supervisors to make needed changes.
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 alleged that he did not do enough to stop or prevent it.
Three councilmen, David Ballweg, George Rapson and Brian Wursten voted in favor of terminating Christopher. Councilman Rich Green voted no and Councilman Geno Withelder voted to abstain from the proposal.
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 that 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 at the May 16 meeting 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.
Addressing the council at the May meeting, Christopher called the termination action a “witch hunt” and added that “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.”