Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Morning News reports: Fayetteville fire chief announces retirement to come on anniversary of hiring four years ago

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Fire Chief Annouces Retirement

By Skip Descant
FAYETTEVILLE — Fayetteville Fire Chief Tony Johnson says he plans to retire in mid-October. It was a surprise announcement to the Fayetteville City Council on Tuesday.

"It has been an honor to have served the citizens of Fayetteville," Johnson said in brief unscheduled remarks at the start of the city council meeting.

Johnson's announcement comes less than two weeks after two Fire Department employees were fired. The city has remained quiet regarding why David P. Williams, a battalion chief and Elizabeth Mann, a financial analyst for the department were terminated. The city has refused to release complete personnel records for the two employees, citing the need for a thorough attorney general opinion, regarding whether those records are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Johnson submitted a letter to Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, requesting retirement, said Lindsley Smith, Jordan's communication director.

"And he (Jordan) said he wanted to think about it over the weekend," Smith said of Jordan's response, speaking after Tuesday night's meeting.

The move to fire Williams and Mann, and then the chief's decision to retire, are likely not autonomous issues.

"They were events that were taking place and then he said he'd retire," Lindsley remarked. "Logic would be that these were events that were taking place, and those were matters that were discussed."

Smith would not elaborate on how the two incidents may be related, because a peripheral discussion could step into a personnel matters, which are generally off limits. Johnson was not available for questions after he made his announcement.

Also on Friday, the city was served with a discrimination complaint from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint was filed by a Fire Department employee, city officials confirmed.

Johnson, who has spent 37 years as a fireman, was hired four years ago. At the time, he was the retired fire chief of the Elkhart, Ind. Fire Department.

Johnson also served as a firefighter on an air base in southeast Asia for three years and spent one year in 1974 in Thailand.

Johnson's last day will be presiding over the annual Fire Department pancake breakfast fundraiser on Oct. 10 — four years to the day that he started.

"If you want further comment, you must buy a ticket to the pancake breakfast," Johnson said to a round of laughs in the council chamber.

Jordan and the council had only kind words for the chief.

"I've worked with you on committees. And I think the professionalism you've showed has been outstanding and I want to say that I appreciated it," Bobby Ferrell, a city councilman, told Johnson.

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