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Fire union: 'No confidence' in chief

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Members of the local firefighters union said they overwhelmingly have no confidence in Marion Fire Chief Geoff Williams in a Thursday night vote.

According to Local President Jordan Lamb, the union wants Williams to resign from his leadership role or be demoted by Marion Mayor Jess Alumbaugh after an incident last week in which Lamb claims Williams joked about suicide when a firefighter told him and other firefighters that he was concerned about his mental health.

During a closed ballot “no-confidence vote,” 95 percent of the voting members of the Marion Professional Firefighters Local 676 voted no confidence. Lamb said 36 of the department’s 58 firefighters were present for the vote.

“Mental health is something all first responders struggle with,” Lamb said Friday. In a Facebook post he called Williams’s comments “egregious” and “terrible.”

“We should not have to work for a fire chief who mocks us when we cry out for help,” Lamb told the Chronicle-Tribune in an email.

Lamb said he has talked and met with Mayor Jess Alumbaugh about the incident several times this week. The mayor told Lamb he gave Williams a verbal warning, but Lamb says that’s not enough.

“He wants to give him a verbal warning, and I don’t think this constitutes a verbal warning, based on past disciplinary actions in the fire department. If you think back to the noose incident, (that firefighter) got demoted and suspended. … (The chief) should be held to a higher standard,” Lamb said.

Alumbaugh could not comment on the incident beyond confirming that he took “disciplinary action.”

But the mayor emphasized it’s his job, not the union’s, to determine who the chief is and whether that person will stay in office.

“I will not have others dictate to me who the leader of a department will be,” Alumbaugh said. “It’s my responsibility to discipline a person and I’ve taken that action and hopefully we won’t have this type of incident again.”

Williams emailed a statement about the incident to the C-T.

“This is a personnel matter. As an administrator I am required by HIPAA the protection and confidential handling of protected health information. I cannot comment on any comments taken out of context during a mental or physical health related conversation,” the chief said.

Lamb said the union will continue to contact the mayor, city council members and members of the Board of Public Works and Safety until Williams is demoted.