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Former Zephyrhills fire marshal reinstated but demoted over sick leave dispute

ZEPHYRHILLS — Just over a month after being terminated for violating the city's sick leave policy, former Fire Marshal Kerry Barnett is back with the department he has worked for since 1988, but with a demotion to lieutenant.

City Manager Jim Drumm reinstated Barnett on Monday after the longtime firefighter asked him to review his case as part of a grievance process. Barnett returned to work at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Drumm said. While the reinstatement comes with all back pay and benefits lost during his termination period, the demotion comes with a 20 percent pay cut.

"I do understand this is not the outcome you had sought, but I do believe it to be fair," Drumm wrote in a four-page letter to Barnett explaining his decision. "I wish you the best in your new role" at Zephyrhills Fire Rescue.

Barnett, who in 2010 was named Florida Fire Marshal of the year, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. He has 10 days from Drumm's decision to file an appeal.

Fire Chief Keith Williams fired Barnett in February after determining that the fire marshal violated city policy by working a similar contract job for the town of St. Leo while he was out on sick leave from Zephyrhills.

Barnett suffered an off-duty foot injury last fall. A doctor's note said Barnett couldn't perform any firefighter duties, but he could perform some desk-related and fire-marshal functions. Zephyrhills policy, however, prohibits allowing light duty when the injury didn't occur on the job, so Barnett had to take about four weeks of sick leave.

Barnett continued to do mostly paperwork duties for St. Leo, where he has performed safety and fire inspector duties on a contract basis since May 2010. He has said he didn't realize he was violating city policy by continuing that work without the permission of Zephyrhills officials.

After a Feb. 23 grievance hearing before Williams, the fire chief denied Barnett's request to be put back on the job.

Williams also couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

While Drumm this week denied Barnett's claim that his union firefighter rights had been violated by the city when he wasn't properly notified about the investigation, the city manager said that Barnett's service to the city should have been taken into consideration when determining the discipline.

"I agreed with him that his years of service, his work performance and his relatively clear disciplinary record should have been taken into account," Drumm said. "I did choose to grant leniency on the prescribed discipline (termination) based on his record."

Former Zephyrhills fire marshal reinstated but demoted over sick leave dispute 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 8:42pm]
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