Embattled Johnson City fire chief hangs it up

Johnson City Press • Mar 17, 2017 at 12:36 PM

After firefighters and a statewide municipal association recommended his dismissal earlier this month, Johnson City Fire Chief Mark Scott announced his retirement on Friday.

“It has been my intent to retire when I hit my 30-year mark,” Chief Scott said in a news release issued by the city. “With that milestone being tomorrow, I’m happy to announce that I will be spending the summer traveling and hiking with my family.

“Family comes first, and I’m just grateful that I can retire to do the things I need and want to do at this point in my life.”

The resignation is effective June 2.

A recent report compiled by the Municipal Technical Advisory Service after extensive meetings with Johnson City firefighters lists more than a dozen recommendations to city leaders, including replacing the controversial chief.

Three groups of firefighters — a total of 18 — met with an MTAS representative in February to develop recommendations in response to a 2016 fire department employee survey. That survey, which revealed firefighters have little confidence in Scott’s leadership, came after an internal investigation found the chief had not violated workplace harassment laws, but indicated he may have abused an employee.

After the report was made public March 6, City Manager Pete Peterson declined to speak with news media about the report until he had a chance to meet with firefighters.

Firefighters interviewed during the internal investigation were blunt in their answers describing some of Scott’s behavior after he became chief in 2011. When Peterson finished that internal investigation he reported the harassment claim was unsubstantiated, but verbally reprimanded Scott for “locker room” behavior.

But firefighters did not drop the issue.

After providing information about the allegations to the International Association of Fire Fighters, that organization voted to censure Scott during the 2016 annual conference. Firefighters also kept pressure on the city in an attempt to force Scott’s removal.

Scott joined the Johnson City Fire Department March 18, 1987. He was promoted to sergeant two years later, to lieutenant in 1994, and to captain in 1997. He was named chief in 2011.

“Our Fire Department has risen to a new level of service under Chief Scott,” Peterson said in Friday’s news release. “Our response times have improved, and through enhanced coordination with EMS, we are now responding to more medical calls.

“The achievement of the ISO Class 1 rating put us in an elite group that only a handful of departments across the country are part of. We thank him for his service, and we wish him the best in his retirement.”

The city’s Human Resources Department initiated what the news release described as an aggressive timetable to find Scott’s replacement, using resources from professional organizations across the state and country to recruit applicants.

The news release said Peterson had been working with a task force of firefighters to garner input on the future of the department. Included in a report of recommendations from the task force were filling vacancies quickly and adding personnel in the Training Division.

The city will move Assistant Chief Jerome Palmer to the Administration Division, promote Capt. David Harrison to assistant chief of the Operations Division, and move Lt. Ian Keys to the Training Division.

The task force report will continue to be used as the department moves forward.

“We’re fortunate to have that tool as we go through this process. It’s an important guide for us,” Peterson said.

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