Texas Fire Official Reinstated in Deal With City

A battalion chief fired last month on accusations that he altered an overtime slip and abused his authority will be reinstated after 60 days of unpaid leave, according to a settlement reached with the city, his attorney confirmed Wednesday.

Kenneth Freeman, a 27-year veteran who had also served as the Fort Worth Fire Department's fire marshal before his indefinite suspension Nov. 8, will be reinstated to the rank of battalion chief effective Jan. 8, said his attorney, Randal Dean.

Under the settlement, Freeman must write a letter of apology to Fire Chief Charles Gaines and the department for disrupting the workplace of city employees and engaging in conduct detrimental to the public's image of the fire service.

Freeman, who had been assigned to the fire prevention bureau, will be reassigned to the operations bureau, Dean said.

Dean said he believes the agreement is a just result for Freeman, who he said has had a stellar career with the department and no disciplinary action.

"First and foremost, he wanted his job back," Dean said. "He thinks this is in the best interest of him and his family. He felt it was an extraordinary risk to take, putting his retirement on the line, going to the Civil Service Commission even though we had every confidence the commission would rule in his favor."

The agreement is expected to be formalized in documents this week, Dean said.

Gaines declined to comment, stating through a department spokesman that the settlement is a matter between the city's legal department and Freeman's attorney.

Carolyn McFatridge, an assistant city attorney, declined to comment on why the city negotiated such an agreement with Freeman but said such settlements are not unusual.

"Sometimes we settle cases the day of the appeal hearing," McFatridge said.

Freeman declined to comment, referring questions to his attorney.

According to civil service documents, Freeman was fired after an internal investigation into complaints that he pressured two payroll clerks and altered an overtime slip in attempt to get paid time and a half. In the documents, Gaines stated that Freeman discredited his position through an abuse of authority and denial of responsibility.

Freeman has said that Executive Deputy Chief Eddie Burns had approved the time-and-a-half pay in advance and that he had changed the overtime slip at the direction of one of the payroll clerks. He has said he believes his termination was a result of a personal vendetta by Gaines.

Shortly after Freeman's firing, the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association called special meetings, putting a vote of no confidence and a request for Gaines to resign on the agenda.

The vote was tabled pending Freeman's appeal, but the association issued a statement saying they had "serious concerns about some recent disciplinary actions" taken by Gaines.

On Wednesday, Jim Tate, the association's president, said members are glad that Freeman will be back on the job soon.

"However, I'll make no comments at this time regarding the settlement of his case," Tate said. "We're currently awaiting the outcome of another indefinite suspension. Once it's been resolved, our membership will discuss the facts surrounding both cases and determine a course of action."

Tate confirmed that he was referring to the termination of Thomas Trujillo, an 18-year veteran who was fired in April on allegations that he lied to investigators about following a woman on the freeway because he found her attractive.

Trujillo's appeal hearing is scheduled for next month.