Claiming harassment, Billings assistant fire chief resigns

2013-11-15T00:00:00Z 2013-11-22T17:47:31Z Claiming harassment, Billings assistant fire chief resignsBy ED KEMMICK ekemmick@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A year after he was disciplined for insubordination, Assistant Billings Fire Chief Frank Odermann has resigned, saying Chief Paul Dextras placed him in “an atmosphere of intolerable, harassing, retaliatory, and hostile work conditions.”

Odermann resigned Monday, effective immediately, saying “any reasonable person in my position would feel they have no choice but to leave their employment.”

Odermann referred all questions to his attorney, Ken Frazier of Billings. Frazier said only that “after some long, arduous thought,” Odermann felt he had no choice but to resign. He said Odermann’s resignation letter would explain why he reached that decision.

Dextras did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Odermann, an 18-year veteran of the Fire Department, was suspended without pay for 40 hours in September 2012 after City Administrator Tina Volek found that he had been insubordinate in his dealings with Dextras.

Her finding came after a long investigation and a due process hearing conducted by Assistant City Administrator Bruce McCandless.

In a letter to Odermann, Volek said she had concluded that he “engaged in numerous acts of insubordination against Fire Chief Dextras constituting gross misconduct. Your insubordinate actions brought disruption and embarrassment to the Billings Fire Department and damaged public trust. Your integrity and leadership has been compromised.”

On the day Odermann returned to work after his suspension, Volek issued a press release saying that “Dextras and Odermann have committed to working to improve communication and strengthen leadership and public perception of the Fire Department. They also have pledged mutual support and a unified intent to work cooperatively with staff to improve Fire Department operations.”

In his resignation letter, however, Odermann said the stress he was under at work “has caused my health to deteriorate.”

Referring to Dextras, he continued: “I have notified you of the many issues and problems that require resolution, but my complaints have fallen on deaf ears. The intolerable, harassing, retaliatory, and hostile work conditions are still continuing. I deserve to be treated equally and fairly, just as anyone else would be under similar circumstances.”

In the summer of 2012, Odermann was on paid leave for nearly four months as an outside investigator looked into allegations that Odermann had been insubordinate and tried relentlessly to get Dextras fired.

The investigator submitted a 12-page report, after which Odermann was served with a “notice of possible disciplinary action.” That notice contained 17 allegations against him.

The investigator said colleagues described Odermann as “manipulative” and “diabolical,” prepared to retaliate against anyone one who wouldn’t join his crusade against Dextras.

Responding to the report at the time, Frazier, Odermann’s attorney, said everything his client did was “intended solely to protect the best interests of the department and the community.”

At his due process hearing, Odermann accused Dextras of engaging in unethical activities that threatened the safety of firefighters.

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