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Ex-Fire Chief Files Suit

POSTED October 23, 2013 8:29 a.m.

Citing that he has the right to an appeal hearing under the district’s disciplinary policy and that he was not afforded the opportunity to confront witnesses, former Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Chief Steven Mayotte filed suit at Stanislaus Superior Court on Thursday, Sept. 12.

The district claims otherwise, stating the district’s disciplinary and appeals policy clearly states it does not apply to “chief officers.”

Mayotte was placed on administrative leave by the district in February. At the time, district officials were tight lipped about the reason, declaring that it was a confidential personnel matter.

Court File Shows Disciplinary Actions

A review of court records filed by Mayotte’s attorney, Michael Macko of Modesto, shows that Mayotte received a notice of discipline in May 2012 proposing a 14-day suspension and requiring him to attend ethics training and workplace harassment prevention training.

According to the documents, the action arose from a complaint where Mayotte was found to have committed “two incidents of verbal indecency in the workplace” and made reference to “body parts.”

While Mayotte was going through his initial hearing for the May discipline, he received a notice in November 2012 regarding another misconduct investigation for a series of additional acts that had been unveiled. In February he was put on administrative leave with pay pending termination for “continued violation of District policy and procedure.”

The second notice lists numerous accusations including making changes to personnel guidelines outside of the district’s agreement with employees without board authorization.

Detailed List of Multiple Violations

A memorandum from the district to Mayotte charges that he arbitrarily changed the status of a fire prevention specialist to “fire inspector,” without approval which resulted in the employee receiving premium pay.

The investigation also showed Mayotte allowed six administrative employees, including himself, to utilize the same holiday cash out benefit given to the firefighters on the 24/7 schedule. The benefit when used results in a higher yearly retirement report on behalf of the employee to PERS.

The district also questioned why Mayotte promoted Kevin Wise to a battalion chief position with the district outside of board approval.

At the time of his promotion, Wise was a captain with the Oakdale Fire Department but was on a limited work assignment due to a workers compensation claim. After the promotion, just two months later, Wise went off on workman’s compensation with the district from September 2012 to Jan. 17, 2013.

The fire district report states, “It is unclear why the employee (Mayotte) would enter into this arrangement with Battalion Chief Wise unless he had a financial interest in the arrangement.”

Mayotte was also censured for issuing checks above $2,500 without two board members’ signatures and misrepresenting to the district board during his August 2012 hearing about credit cards issued to company officers.

A February notice also criticizes Mayotte for firing a temporary administrative employee, Maria Gonzalez, without approval.

Mayotte said he terminated Gonzalez for insubordination and her “flexibility” and believed terminations of temporary workers did not need board approval.

Gonzalez’s termination by Mayotte stemmed from her questioning why Wise, an administrative employee, was receiving a 56-hour per week schedule time-off accrual formula normally given to the line fire personnel. In December, when she again questioned the legality and refused to change the formula, Mayotte fired Gonzalez.

The district’s investigator into the incident made reference that even though Gonzalez did not claim retaliation; the firing of Gonzalez appeared to be retaliatory.

Ms. Gonzalez has since been reinstated by the district and now reports to Deputy Chief Michael Wapnowski.

Failure to Maintain Files and Duties

Mayotte has been with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District or its subsidiary agencies since 1990 and was appointed chief in 2005.

Other matters concerning Mayotte’s conduct by the district were his failure to maintain personnel files and the submission of his annual evaluations since becoming chief.

In 2012 the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury looked into a complaint alleging the “dereliction of duty” by Mayotte with improper business practices, poor financial practices, failure to comply with accepted accounting practices, and discrimination against the union and its members.

The Grand Jury found the scope of responsibility given to the fire chief was far too much for one person to handle and could lead to conflicts of interest and ineffective, biased decision making.

Demotion, Leave, Retirement

In May of this year, after no less than 11 hearings regarding the matter, the Stanislaus Consolidated Board of Directors decided to impose a 60-day suspension on Mayotte and, after the suspension was served, demoted him to the rank of battalion chief. Mayotte was to remain on leave collecting his full pay until Dec. 11, 2013 and then will be retired – thus eligible for a PERS service pension and retiree health benefits.

Multiple calls and messages by The Oakdale Leader and Riverbank News left with Mayotte’s attorney, Michael Macko, were not returned.

Stanislaus Consolidated Interim Chief Brian Kelly declined to discuss the matter due to ongoing litigation and confidentiality of personnel actions.

 

 

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