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Zephyrhills fire marshal fired over sick leave dispute

ZEPHYRHILLS — City Fire Marshal Kerry Barnett, who in 2010 was named state Fire Marshal of the Year, was fired this week after a two-month investigation.

Fire Chief Keith Williams determined on Monday that Barnett violated city policy by working a similar second job without permission while he was on sick leave last fall. Barnett had injured his foot in an off-duty accident.

"It is unfortunate that Fire Marshal Kerry Barnett chose to make inappropriate decisions that violated a city of Zephyrhills policy, which led to his dismissal from Zephyrhills Fire Rescue," Williams wrote in an email to the Times on Tuesday. "…The record shows that he violated the policy and admitted to doing so."

Williams said the policy is clear and the penalty for violating it is immediate termination.

Barnett disagrees.

"I never thought twice about the violating the policy because I believed I knew what the policy meant and I had authorization to work my consulting company from the chief by completing a City of Zephyrhills Outside Employment Form," Barnett said in a written statement issued Tuesday, adding he even served on an employee policy review committee.

Further, Barnett said, the chief knew all along he continued non-strenuous consulting work while on leave because Barnett would stop by the station and talk to him about jobs and see how things were going in his absence. Williams never told him he couldn't, Barnett said. In the statement Barnett implied the investigation and his firing are in retaliation to a grievance he filed in December over holiday vacation being denied.

"Why two months later for the chief to say something? Only he can answer that, however, it is all too coincidental that the public records were requested only hours after the union submitted a grievance on my behalf for vacation being turned down by the chief," Barnett wrote.

Williams could not be reached for comment on that specific issue Tuesday evening.

Barnett, 44, plans on appealing his termination. If he doesn't get the outcome he wants, he said he will likely file a lawsuit. He has 10 days to appeal to City Manager Jim Drumm, or if going through the firefighter union, five days with the chief.

"I would very much like to get back to work at the city of Zephyrhills and finish my career out," Barnett, who has been with the department since 1988, told the Times by telephone Tuesday.

Barnett had been on administrative leave with pay since Dec. 27 when it was alleged he continued working as contract fire safety inspector for the town of St. Leo while on sick leave for his foot injury. He has never denied working for St. Leo during that time doing inspections, site plan reviews and the like.

A doctor's note said Barnett couldn't perform any firefighter duties, but he could perform some some desk-related and fire-marshal functions.

City policy, however, prohibits allowing light duty when the injury didn't occur on the job. He had no choice, he has said, but to take sick leave from Zephyrhills for about four weeks, starting Sept. 26.

Since Barnett's administrative leave in December, the fire chief has been handling fire marshal duties. Drumm said it's too early to make a decision on replacing Barnett.

Zephyrhills fire marshal fired over sick leave dispute 02/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 8:36pm]
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