Firefighter to learn if firing will stand
By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETE BEACH -- An arbitrator has ruled on whether the firefighter accused of accessing pornography on city computers violated employee rules, but lawyers will meet next week to learn whether the firefighter will get his job back.
Walter E. Aye, a lawyer who arbitrated the dispute between St. Pete Beach and its former fire lieutenant, Crist Fellman, delivered his eight-page ruling on Thursday, but lawyers will learn in a conference with Aye Monday whether Fellman's firing will stand. The city's attorney, Reynolds Allen, and Fellman's lawyer, Robert McKee, will talk Monday with the arbitrator.
Fire Chief Fred Golliner fired Fellman after an internal affairs investigation, which revealed that Fellman accessed pornography on city computers despite memos from the chief forbidding porn at the firehouse.
Aye wrote that Fire Chief Fred Golliner "testified to several considerations, which he included in his evaluation for (Fellman's) discipline. Some of the considerations were valid. Some were not."
City Manager Mike Bonfield said Thursday that the city is hopeful the arbitrator's ruling means the city made the right decision.
"It would appear that (Aye) is supporting our position that (Fellman) violated our rules and regulations and willfully violated them, and we've proven our case," Bonfield said. Where the ruling is unclear, Bonfield said, is whether the city was justified in firing Fellman.
McKee, Fellman's lawyer, said Friday that he thinks Aye will decide Fellman deserves a less severe punishment than firing, perhaps a demotion.
"My interpretation is that the arbitrator is going to impose some penalty less than termination," McKee said.
Aye was ruling on Fellman's appeal of his firing.
Fellman's problems began after co-workers said they spotted him accessing pornography many times while on duty. While hundreds of pornographic images were found on two fire department computers during a Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysis of the hard drives, few could be linked to Fellman because the city computers do not require a sign-on and there was no way to pinpoint who was using the computer when the pornography was viewed.
Only the images located in a separate file -- a coworker saved the Web sites that Fellman visited -- could be directly linked to Fellman.
Golliner fired Fellman in October, and Fellman immediately appealed. Aye, the arbitrator, heard the case in April and expected to make a final decision in the case in June. Instead, the decision came Thursday.
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