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Ex-fire chief cleared by inquiry

Largo's investigation launched on the basis of one e-mail concludes that allegations of improper conduct were unfounded.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published June 5, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Former fire Chief Jeff Bullock, 45, joined the department at 18 and was promoted to chief in 2005.

LARGO - The city has closed its investigation of former fire Chief Jeff Bullock, finding no proof of allegations he violated the city's discrimination and sexual harassment policy.

Officials first launched an informal investigation of Bullock on the strength of one e-mail from a city firefighter who enumerated more than a dozen allegations against him. Bullock joined the department at 18 and was promoted to chief in 2005.

That informal investigation evolved into a formal inquiry focusing on two allegations that Bullock, 45, had inappropriate contact with two women while at a fire station eight to 11 years ago.

Bullock, who resigned in late April, said the two alleged incidents didn't happen.

"It's ridiculous. It's absurd," Bullock said of the allegations last week.

Pat Saben, the city's assistant human resources director, issued a report on the investigation May 22, saying both allegations of inappropriate behavior were "not sustained."

Bullock, who made about $100,000 a year, said he decided to quit because the internal investigation would ruin his reputation and set a precedent of sanctioning major investigations any time an employee had a beef. His resignation was effective May 23.

"I knew I didn't do anything wrong but it still ruins your credibility," Bullock said. "If I wasn't going to have the support of my bosses, I wasn't going to survive."

On March 25, a day after City Manager Steve Stanton was fired, firefighter and emergency medical technician Bob Flores sent an e-mail to commissioners. The e-mail, which mentioned Stanton at least six times, began this way: "Commission, now that you have dealt with Stanton, you must deal with Bullock."

After interviewing Flores and other employees, officials formally investigated two allegations of inappropriate behavior with women when Bullock was a lieutenant. If true, the behavior could have constituted a violation of the city's discrimination and harassment policy, officials said.

"We didn't know if it was harassment, if it was consensual or if it was true, but we felt it was important to look into it," Saben said.

Even though the alleged events were said to have occurred a long time ago, an investigation was necessary because the allegations contended improper behavior occurred while Bullock was on duty at a city facility, Saben said.

In a taped interview, Flores said that one night about 10 or 11 years ago he saw Bullock "making out" with a female firefighter in the day room of Fire Station 38. In another taped interview, firefighter and EMT Pat Gansert said eight years ago he saw Bullock "making out" with a health insurance representative at the same fire station. Gansert provided only the first name of the woman.

The female firefighter, who has since left the department, was not formally interviewed, but over the phone, she told Saben the incident didn't happen, the report said.

Officials contacted several of the city's previous health care providers but were unable to track down a representative with the first name provided by Gansert.

The investigation came on the heels of another report that found Bullock had used his position to get a discount on a topper for his personal pickup. After conducting both an informal and a formal investigation of that matter, Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert recommended Bullock be suspended for one day without pay.

Bullock resigned April 29 after officials informed him of the formal investigation of Flores' claims and before the discipline on the topper incident was imposed.

Bullock, whose annual pension is about $71,500, said he may now do consulting work or join another department as a firefighter.

He said he is disappointed his bosses didn't back him, but not bitter. He is able to spend more time with his wife and kids and is learning to fly helicopters, he said. "To have the time with my family is priceless," he said. "I'm not angry."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 4, 2007, 22:55:04]


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