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Billings City Administrator Tina Volek said Wednesday that she is conferring with attorneys before deciding what, if any, discipline to mete out to the city's assistant fire chief, who is accused of insubordination.

In another matter involving the possible discipline of city employees, Volek said due process hearings will be the next step in an investigation of six landfill employees suspected of improper scavenging.

A due process hearing was conducted Aug. 24 for Assistant Fire Chief Frank Odermann, who has been on paid suspension since May 31. He was accused of being insubordinate and trying to undermine his boss, Fire Chief Paul Dextras.

Odermann mounted a vigorous defense of his conduct at the hearing, saying he was only trying to protect the interests of the Fire Department and the community. He accused Dextras of acting unethically and of taking actions that put firefighters in danger.

Volek said Assistant City Administrator Bruce McCandless, who conducted Odermann's hearings, delivered his recommendations to her on Sept. 4.

She declined to say what those recommendations were. Human resources supervisor Karla Stanton previously said disciplinary action could range from an oral or written "corrective action" to suspension or firing.

Volek said she has "reviewed all the documentation" in the Odermann case and is conferring with city attorneys as well as outside attorneys before deciding what to do.

"This is obviously a very grave matter," she said.

Odermann was suspended after Dextras filed a formal complaint against him. An outside investigator — Lynda Brown, a University of Montana adjunct instructor and human resources director for a Missoula company —  was hired to look into the allegations.

She submitted a 12-page report on July 25 and Odermann was served with a "notice of possible disciplinary action" on Aug. 1. Odermann makes $95,513 a year.

In regard to employees of the city-owned Billings Regional Landfill, the city initially interviewed eight heavy-equipment operators who were suspected of scavenging and taking home high-end sporting goods, electronics and other materials on July 23.

The property was disposed of at the landfill by United Parcel Service after a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train carrying UPS shipments derailed near Glasgow on July 17.

City policies strictly prohibit landfill employees from scavenging. They were also accused of doing the scavenging after the landfill was closed, another policy violation.

The eight employees were interviewed in August by Vern Heisler, deputy director of public works, and Scott Emerick, distribution and collection superintendent at the city water plant.

Volek said the investigation was narrowed to six employees, who will be allowed to testify at due-process hearings starting late next week. They, too, could be suspended or fired for their activities.

 

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I cover the city of Billings.