tampabay.com

Largo's fire chief will step down

One inquiry found that he improperly used his position; another was looking into allegations of mismanagement.

By JONATHAN ABEL and LORRI HELFAND
Published May 2, 2007


LARGO -- With one investigation into his conduct concluded and another one just begun, Largo fire Chief Jeff Bullock has decided to retire at the end of this month.

Bullock's decision, announced Tuesday, came as the city released a report that found Bullock had used his position improperly to get a discount on a topper for his personal pickup.

But in a second investigation, the city was also looking into claims from a disgruntled firefighter that Bullock had mismanaged the department and mistreated employees.

A 27-year veteran of the department, Bullock, 45, earned about $100, 000 annually, and has served as chief since 2005, two years after being promoted to deputy chief. He tendered his resignation Sunday, effective May 23.

Bullock said Tuesday he decided to retire after city officials decided to pursue a formal investigation of the e-mail allegations from the disgruntled firefighter. He felt a formal investigation, rather than just an informal one, would set a precedent of sanctioning major investigations anytime there was a disgruntled employee.

"If you go through this kind of stuff, you drag the department through the mud, " Bullock said. "I'm not going to do it to the firefighters. I'm not going to do it to my career."

Bullock's unraveling may have started with the confusion over the difference between Topper Town and TopperKing.

The Fire Department needed to buy toppers for two new pickups so Bullock shopped at two local establishments. He decided to go with Topper Town. But when his employees took the trucks in for the installation, they drove to TopperKing instead.

An employee at TopperKing told the employees the store had lost the city's business because, according to Largo's investigation, "the fire chief did not get a favorable price for a topper for his personal pickup truck."

The city launched an investigation and found that Bullock had indeed saved money by bundling his personal business with the city's, though it was possible that the city received a lower price because of a discount for quantity, the report said.

Assistant City Manger Henry Schubert decided the incident was worth a day's suspension without pay, but before he could impose it, Bullock announced that he would resign.

Bullock said he made a mistake and did not intentionally try to get a deal for his own topper.

"I was wrong, " he said. "I had no idea the perception that could be construed from this."

The Human Resources Department was also investigating allegations from Bob Flores, a city firefighter.

Flores' allegations came in an angry March 25 e-mail to the City Commission. He called Bullock a "vengeful person, deceitful, dishonest and corrupt."

When the Human Resources director followed up with Flores, the firefighter elaborated that he had been ridiculed by Bullock for not finishing paramedic school and that Bullock had told another employee he wouldn't be promoted because he couldn't stop eating.

Flores said the union was getting ready for a no-confidence vote against Bullock, but the union denied that in speaking with city officials.

Bullock, who ran a workplace safety consulting business on his days off for many years, said he may continue in fire service or try another avenue.

"Maybe I can start off from the bottom at another department or maybe I'll go back into private industry, " he said. "I loved being a firefighter and I was pretty good at it."