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Ex-firefighter vows to press on
Takes issue with civil service ruling
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Forsyth County News

A former Forsyth County firefighter who lost his job amid allegations that he lied and stole county equipment is fighting the Civil Service Board's decision to uphold his firing.

John Gooch was terminated Aug. 3 and stood accused of theft, false statements and falsification of documents.

In a letter dated Nov. 4 and signed by Avery Howell, chairman of the county's three-member civil service panel, Gooch learned his appeal was denied and the board was sustaining some of the allegations against him.

Hearings on the matter spanned five days in September and October.

Gooch’s attorney, Robert Reid, filed a motion for reconsideration and clarification Friday.

Reid said the board made a few mistakes.

“They did not address my procedural point, which is my guy was never given notice of some of these charges or the evidence against him as is required by the U.S. Constitution, Georgia Constitution and actually somewhat by the county’s own policies,” he said.

Reid took issue with the probe into the charges against Gooch, which ultimately led to his dismissal.

The board decided against upholding an allegation that Gooch lied during the investigation, because “the fire department failed to follow its own policies and procedures on the rights of employees being interviewed while under investigation.”

Reid said he was upset that the board did not address investigators' alleged “misconduct” in the letter.

“They threw out any statements that my client made during the investigation because [they] failed to read him the rights that are required under their own policies,” Reid said.

Reid also represented Brandon Nash, a county firefighter who got his job back in March after appealing to the board.

In that case, the panel ruled that while the reasons for Nash's termination -- insubordination and not obeying orders -- justified the decision, the fire department failed to follow procedures in the process.

In short, the county fired Nash without first conducting an investigation.

Reid said the situations surrounding both clients are “disturbing.”

“How are you supposed to give your side of the story when they don’t tell you the specific charges or the evidence?” he said.

According to the letter, the board upheld the allegation that Gooch had taken home toilet paper, a county fuel key, blood pressure kit and another firefighter’s fan without authorization.

The board also agreed that Gooch provided false statements to his supervisor and other employees, as well as to the panel itself during one of the hearings.

The board ruled that the charge he falsified documents was out of their jurisdiction because it referred to divorce papers.

“The board is unwilling to extend employee discipline outside the scope of your employment relationship,” the letter states.

It goes on to say, “since any sustained charge for theft or false statement is an offense justifying termination under the Forsyth County Civil

Service policy, the board denies your appeal and affirms the termination of your employment.”

Gooch was also accused of taking items from Fire Station 4 that were later found in his lockers at the site.

However, the board chose not to uphold the allegation, citing a “so-called ‘honor’ system with no inventory control,” and found that there was no proof Gooch intended to take the items as personal possessions.

“You had more county-issued equipment than you should have according to the fire department’s records,” the letter states. “But apparently almost all firefighters have more county equipment than the records reflect based upon the unrefuted evidence in this case.”

Howell noted that the board has been informed that changes are being made in the department in reference to the lack of inventory control.