Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

Arbitrator rules in favor of demoted Zephyrhills firefighter

ZEPHYRHILLS — A fire marshal who was demoted after supervisors said he violated a sick leave policy is entitled to be reinstated to his former job, an arbitrator ruled.

Kerry Barnett, now a lieutenant with the department he has worked for since 1988, filed last year to get his old position back.

He was originally fired in 2012 after then-Fire Chief Keith Williams said his work as a consultant for the town of St. Leo while out on medical leave in Zephyrhills violated city policy.

Barnett was out of work for four weeks after breaking his toe doing household chores off duty. He asked for light duty, but city policy prohibits it for off-the-job injuries.

City Manager Jim Drumm reviewed the case and decided that Williams should have considered Barnett's tenure and good standing with the department before he chose to fire him. He reinstated Barnett at the lower position.

At issue was the rule, which states the following:

Employees on sick leave, "should not engage in any work, including work at second or other jobs at home or elsewhere, without permission of the city manager or his designee."

Arbitrator Robert Covington ruled that the city had failed to define the word "work" specifically enough and sided with Barnett.

Barnett expressed relief and said he planned to pursue back pay and interest. He took a 20 percent pay cut with the demotion.

"It's time to make things right now," he said.

Drumm maintains the city acted properly. However, he also called for a review of the city's personnel manual.

"It is outdated and could be a better tool for managing our departments and staff," he said.

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