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Civil service board mulls demotion
Fire investigator seeks job back
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Forsyth County News

The Forsyth County Civil Service Board has about a month to determine whether the disciplinary action taken against the county’s former chief fire investigator was appropriate.

Steve Anderson challenged the county’s March decision to demote him from fire marshal and chief of the fire investigation division to firefighter II.

Anderson was disciplined after allegations surfaced that he acted inappropriately toward one of his direct subordinates.

The hearing on Anderson’s appeal began July 15 and concluded Wednesday. The board has 30 days to render a decision.

Anderson’s attorney, Greg Fidlon, asked the board to reverse the demotion, restore his client’s pay grade and give him back the 66 hours of personal leave he had to take while waiting for the county doctor to clear him for firefighter duty.

In addition, Fidlon said Anderson seeks attorney’s fees and the 400 hours of compensatory time he had to forfeit as a result of going from exempt to non-exempt status.

Anderson's demotion came after a county investigation into his conduct, during which time he was suspended with pay for nearly a month awaiting the outcome.

Robin Brackett, an administrative specialist, filed the complaint against him for events she contends occurred between November and February.

Anderson was disciplined for five violations of two county policies, which included workplace harassment of a sexual and discriminatory nature. He was also accused of falsifying documents and wasting time.

In addition, he was placed on probation for one year and stripped of his supervisory duties.

Thomas Mondelli, the attorney who represented the county in the hearing, said in his closing statements that the demotion was appropriate.

“There was a subordinate who was feeling harassed and pressured and smothered in the workplace, both because of actions in the workplace and actions outside of it,” Mondelli said.

He said the only aspect that kept Anderson from being fired was the fact he had an “exemplary” work history and that progressive discipline was considered.

“Frankly, when you’re dealing with claims of this significance, of this severity, progressive discipline has to take a back seat to the facts on the ground,” Mondelli said.

In his testimony, which spanned two days, Anderson disputed the allegations.

He said he invited Brackett in November to attend a gospel concert with him because she had told him how much she liked the group. He agreed to her request that they would attend only as friends.

Anderson testified that he researched the county employee handbook before inviting Brackett “and I could not find anything that would prohibit it.”

He said Personnel Services Director Pat Carson told him it was fine if they attended the concert, as long as they went as friends. He also consulted his supervisor, Deputy Fire Chief Dwight Clark, who didn’t object.

“I spoke to Brenda Green who is our (human resources) person in the fire department and told her what was going on and she said she didn’t have a problem with it, that it happens all the time in the fire department,” Anderson said.

He testified that he spent time at Brackett’s desk, sometimes several hours a day, because of complaints from other employees about her work performance.

“Basically, she didn’t have eight hours worth of work to do,” Anderson said. “She spent a lot of time dealing with personal matters.

"She was still allowing voice mail to pick up instead of talking to people. She still was making the mistakes dealing with messages and territory ... I did see that her work was getting worse.”

Anderson said after they attended the concert, his relationship with Brackett changed to more of a friendship. They talked on the phone after hours and exchanged text messages.

He said eventually their conversations, some of which she initiated, included sexually intimate topics.

According to Anderson, she never told him she felt uncomfortable with the conversations or wanted to stop talking about sex with him.

He said on the morning of Jan. 8 he picked Brackett up for work because of inclement weather.

Anderson said they decided to stop somewhere and get biscuits for everybody back at the office. After finding two restaurants closed, they stopped at a McDonald’s and headed on to work.

He said he “wasn’t thinking” when he later told Green, who is also the division’s timekeeper, to clock Brackett in at 7:30 a.m., though they arrived about 10 a.m.

“That was her starting time,” he said. “It didn’t dawn on me at that time that it would be anything different ... I didn’t take time to think about it, I just said 7:30.”

Anderson said he sent Brackett an e-mail on Feb. 2 that said “you are going to have to tell me if you want me to hang around or not.”

He said she responded that she wanted them to act as employer and employee and discontinue their friendship.

He said he thought Brackett was “encouraged or intimidated” to file a complaint against him, adding that he had heard her say she thought the issue would come up at another hearing.

“I know that from the day we basically stopped the relationship we had had, we still had a good relationship,” he said. “We had contact every day, we talked, I can even remember talking to her about her new boyfriend ... and asking her if she was happy.”

Anderson began working for the fire department on Jan. 3, 1995. His base salary has been reduced from about $71,434 to $53,841.

Capt. Kevin Wallace is serving as interim fire marshal.