Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Fire chief stays on as consultant

Heartened by support from public, council

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Lies. Rumors. Half-truths.

        That's all Sheryl Short of Mason said she's heard since Fire Chief Billy Goldfeder resigned two weeks ago amid allegations he sexually harassed several female firefighters.

        Mrs. Short, a staunch supporter of the chief, came to Monday's City Council meeting urging leaders to “read between the lines” and honor their agreement to retain Chief Goldfeder as a consultant after his Oct. 1 resignation.

        Council approved the deal, agreeing to pay him roughly the equivalent of his current salary through the end of the year.

        “I ask you to do the right thing and award the chief a (consulting) package that acknowledges the time and commitment he has given to the residents of this community for the past five years,” she said. “Please take this time now to read between the lines, try to discern the truth from the lies and don't allow vicious rumors to be the only thing that you hear.”

        The “vicious rumors” Mrs. Short spoke of were allegations of misconduct made against
Chief Goldfeder by a group of employees with the Mason Fire Department. The accusations prompted City Manager Scot Lahrmer to launch a 45-day inquiry of Chief Goldfeder in mid-June, which cost the city nearly $13,000.

        An internal investigative report obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer contained allegations the chief sexually harassed several female firefighters; created a hostile working environment by screaming and cursing at his officers; and routinely showed favoritism, especially to certain female employees.

        The 11-page summary did not refer to any criminal activities by the chief or reach any conclusions about his behavior.

        Mrs. Short said she was disappointed to learn that few council members took the time to speak with Chief Goldfeder about the allegations. She also said “the leaks of rumors, half-truths, both through the community and in the media, were at the very least unprofessional.”

        “We are not only dealing with a leader of our community, but also with his family,” she said. “If I were a member of council, I would find it very difficult sleeping at night knowing I did not do everything I could to keep this situation from getting to this point.”

        Councilwoman Charlene Pelfrey said she has spent many sleepless nights since the allegations against Chief Goldfeder arose and expressed sadness about the way the situation has played out.

        “There will be no winners in this situation,” Mrs. Pelfrey said. “We have all had to count our losses: the families involved, our newly formed fire department, the residents of the city, City Council and administration.”

        Mrs. Pelfrey cautioned people to stay focused on the facts of the case and not be driven by emotion. She said the facts as she knew them are “there were allegations made and an investigation followed.”

        “Council took these allegations extremely serious and acted promptly in authorizing the administration to take immediate action,” Mrs. Pelfrey said. “When confronted with the findings, Mr. Goldfeder chose to resign, al though his resignation was not an admission of guilt.”

        The councilwoman said that because of the chief's resignation, she considers all issues moot.

        “A man or woman is still innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” Mrs. Pelfrey said.

        Chief Goldfeder, 45, who has denied the allegations, was at Monday's meeting with his attorney, but made no comments.

        On Tuesday, the chief said he was encouraged by Mrs. Short's comments and the support City Council showed for him by approving the consulting contract.

        Under the three-month contract, the city will pay Chief Goldfeder $16,800, which amounts to $5,600 per month, to oversee design work for an emergency operations center in Mason's new municipal building.

        The chief will assume the consulting position after his resignation takes effect in October.

        In his job as fire chief, Chief Goldfeder's annual salary was $67,000, or roughly $5,600 per month.

        “Chief Goldfeder has considerable expertise in planning and implementing such issues and had (already) begun leading the city's planning efforts for this aspect of the new facility,” Mr. Lahrmer said.


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