WINCHESTER — City Council has made it clear that it has no intention of investigating City Manager Eden Freeman’s handling of Winchester Fire and Rescue Chief William A. Garrett.

“I, and I think I can speak for the entire council, have complete faith in Eden Freeman,” council Vice President Evan Clark said near the end of Tuesday night’s council work session.

Clark’s statement, which he said was directed to the media and a group of firefighters in attendance, was made before The Winchester Star’s report, printed in Wednesday’s edition, that quoted multiple sources challenging Freeman’s claim that no disciplinary action had been taken against Garrett.

The chief, who was sworn in on June 3, was out of office Nov. 22-26 for reasons that have never been publicly explained. Numerous sources have told The Star that Garrett, who has declined to comment on the issue, was temporarily relieved of duty following his opposition to a proposed Paid Time Off (PTO) policy that overlooked the extra hours worked by city firefighters and paramedics. Freeman said Garrett was not relieved of duty and that he was out of the office Nov. 26 for a pre-planned day off. She offered no explanation for his absence on the other days.

Members of the Winchester Fire and Rescue Department have rallied to support Garrett, appearing en masse at all subsequent council meetings and demanding that councilors conduct an investigation into Freeman’s actions.

Councilor Les Veach said in November that he supported an investigation, but discussion of the matter had not been included in any of council’s meeting agendas until Tuesday night, when Veach was on vacation and out of town.

According to city policies, council’s meeting agendas are prepared by Freeman and Winchester Mayor David Smith, who also serves as council president.

The issues discussed on Tuesday that appear to be tied to the Freeman/Garrett situation were both presented by City Attorney Melisa G. Michelson. The first asked if council wanted to create a policy that allows it to investigate complaints filed against the city manager and city attorney — Winchester’s only two employees hired by City Council — and the second asked if any department head under the city manager’s supervision should be allowed to appeal a disciplinary action or termination to council.

In both cases, City Council answered with a resounding no.

“I struggle with us being an investigative body,” Councilor Judy McKiernan said, noting that independent agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be more suited to looking into grievances regarding the city manager and city attorney.

Councilors plan to continue discussing the procedures for filing complaints at a future meeting, but said they currently favor adopting a written policy advising people how to seek help elsewhere if they have a grievance with the city manager or city attorney.

As for the ability of department heads to appeal disciplinary actions to City Council, it appears council does not want to get involved. On Tuesday, councilors said they want to stick with Winchester’s current policy of giving the city manager full authority over department heads.

Currently, City Code allows Winchester’s police chief to appeal disciplinary actions to City Council, but that protection is not given to any other department head. Garrett’s supporters have asked for the fire chief to have the same avenue of appeal, but councilors on Tuesday said they would prefer to take away the police chief’s appeal option rather than granting the same power to any other city employee, including Garrett.

The issue has not been decided. Councilor John Willingham asked Michelson to present council with options for a revised appeal policy at a future meeting.

Garrett, who did not attend Tuesday’s work session, is nearing the end of a nine-month probationary period. When his probation expires on March 3, he can be terminated without cause by the city manager.

Freeman, who has been Winchester’s city manager since July 21, 2014, will be leaving the city on March 16 to start a new job as deputy city manager for Greenville, South Carolina. She has denied that calls for an investigation were a factor in her decision to resign.

“I will support Eden until her final day here,” Councilor Corey Sullivan said on Tuesday.

Attending Tuesday night’s City Council work session at Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors John Willingham, Kim Herbstritt, Judy McKiernan, Bill Wiley and Corey Sullivan. Councilor Les Veach was absent.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(14) comments

delaurel66

For those who did not attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday, you really should view the video of the work session. The last part is where they discuss complaints on the City Manager and how to handle them. Then you get all the praise of Eden Freeman from the senior council members. Evan Clark has no idea what is going on with the Fire and Rescue Department or the City he serves. He believes that everyone who spoke at the council meetings are liars. That's pretty bad coming from a person who was elected to work for you. Lets remember this come November.

ShackMaster

Perhaps an investigation of Eden Freeman's activities would uncover inconvenient truths about the activities of those City Councilors who refuse to support an investigation.

delaurel66

Agree. They don't want to find out the real truth. If they did, they would have had a sit down with Chief Garrett when this all came up.

woke-unicorn

Chief William A. Garrett. was more qualified than LOCAL fire men? WHy do we keep forcing Multi culturalism in euro american communities but WE NEVER can do that to afro american communities? The man was an afffirmative action pick and need to go. March is probation time to send this over paid, under qualified clown packing. its time

delaurel66

Chief Garrett is one of the finest men you will ever meet. I suggest woke-unicorn, take the time to meet Chief Garrett before you start making statements like you did. Yes there were local men who were as qualified or more so than Chief Garrett. However they were stopped by going any further to Fire Chief because of Eden Freeman. They were part of a law suit against the City when Freeman came on board and she has hated the WFRD every since. She has made the statement "there are some WFRD staff members who will never go any further than where they are now." Hostile work environment.

Petejohn62

And these kddy kangaroo rules of posting about being truthful how about the folks running the city be truthful...like oh i dont know..the courts commonwealth prosecutors cops etc..

Petejohn62

Because dirty corrupt people can hide from anything with their status especially being in politics or anything of great popularity. In my own personal opinion I think 9/10 of Winchester is dirty.

Steve Cunningham

It will be interesting to see how many council members run for re-election when they now have this cloud over their heads. Should be pretty interesting!!

delaurel66

WE the public, the taxpayers, the voters are entitled to know the truth. With City Council dragging their feet on the investigation, we already have our answer. Eden Freeman is wrong, she lied about what happened in regards to Chief Garrett and the investigation will show that. Lets keep our heads in the sand, look the other way and it goes away. WRONG. The citizens of Winchester will get their answers, come November there will be new City Council members who listen to the people. If the Town of Berryville see's a need for an ordinance regarding complaints on Town Manager and Town Council, why not Winchester? Maybe because Berryville wants to be transparent? I thought Winchester did also? Protect all department heads the same. Don't lower the standards of how the Police Chief is fired. Perhaps City Council should have a Decision Day?

Clrzero

City Council does not hold themselves accountable. How can we expect them to hold others accountable?

delaurel66

You are so right. Different standards for everyone.

akagoofy

I ask, why not an investigation....unless afraid of what it may turn up. Citizen deserve to know what is going on.

Councilor Les Veach

trunuyawkr

Quite honestly, the fact that this agenda item *suddenly* came up for the one meeting you (the one who has been most vocal about supporting an investigation) were absent really tells the rest of us all we need to know, unfortunately.

akagoofy

Councilor Clark does NOT speak for me as a Councilor. I do not agree with him. That is why I requested the investigation, but months have been allowed to drag by.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.