Supporting Garrett

A large crowd composed primarily of people supporting Winchester Fire and Rescue Chief William Garrett filled council chambers and spilled into the lobby of Rouss City Hall during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

This article has been corrected to clarify the time frame of Councilor Les Veach’s motion.

WINCHESTER — More than 100 firefighters from as far away as Loudoun County packed Rouss City Hall on Tuesday night during a City Council meeting to protest City Manager Eden Freeman’s handling of a personnel situation involving Winchester Fire and Rescue Chief William Garrett.

Council responded by setting the stage for a possible investigation of City Hall’s personnel policies and practices, which Winchester career firefighters and paramedics blame for major staff losses and recruiting difficulties for the city’s Fire and Rescue Department.

The dustup began Oct. 22 when Winchester Human Resources Director Paula Nofsinger proposed modifications to the city’s Comprehensive Employee Management System that would, among other things, adjust the way paid time off (PTO) is calculated for city employees.

Members of the Winchester Professional Firefighters and Paramedics-IAFF Local 3401 union objected, claiming the proposed PTO changes are unfair because career firefighters and paramedics work more hours per year than other city employees — 2,496 hours annually, compared to 2,080 for most city staff — but would accrue the same amount of annual vacation and sick time as everyone else.

At City Council’s meeting Nov. 12, Garrett said the PTO changes “could be a game changer for us” because the proposed accrual policy may make it more difficult for his department to recruit and retain staff, who could earn more money and time off in other jurisdictions. He recommended council take more time to develop a plan fair to everyone, and councilors unanimously agreed to table the matter until Dec. 10 so Nofsinger could seek PTO alternatives.

Less than two weeks after that meeting, rumors began circulating that Garrett had been suspended. A Facebook page titled “Support Chief Garrett, Winchester Fire and Rescue Department” was created on Nov. 23. No official reason for the suspension was provided, but people posting to the page accused Freeman of retaliating against Garrett because of his statements to council.

On Sunday, Freeman issued a statement saying Garrett’s absence from the office was due to a “personnel matter” and, as such, would not be further discussed.

On Tuesday, the city released another statement, this time saying Garrett had never been suspended or relieved of duty, and would return to the office on Wednesday. This statement said one of the days Garrett was out of the office was due to a previously scheduled vacation day, but no explanation was offered for the other two days he was absent.

“We demand to know the truth, whatever it may be,” Winchester resident Roya Millotte told council Tuesday night.

“I think our city is in terrible turmoil at this point,” added former Winchester police officer Cheryl Anderson, who called on council to meet privately with Garrett and find out the real reason why he was out of the office.

Millottee and Anderson were among seven people who stood at the podium and criticized Freeman, who was seated next to the lectern. Each speaker signed up in advance to address council, and after they had finished speaking, Mayor David Smith closed off public comments. This was unusual because Smith traditionally asks the audience if there is anyone who wishes to speak who didn’t sign up.

Councilor Les Veach, a Republican, then made a motion calling for City Council to investigate City Hall’s personnel policies from 2017 through today so the city’s hiring and firing practices are transparent for its citizens.

However, Veach’s motion was deemed too broad and caused confusion among councilors. At one point, council members mistakenly thought Veach was calling for an investigation specifically into the Garrett incident, and all five Democrats on the nine-person council raised their hands to indicate they would not support the measure.

Republican Councilor Corey Sullivan said it would be prudent to first find out “what our parameters are in terms of conducting an investigation.” His motion directing City Attorney Melisa G. Michelsen to determine council’s options and report back was approved on a 7-2 vote. Smith and Vice Mayor John Hill, both Democrats, opposed the measure.

Garrett, who did not attend Tuesday’s council meeting, did not return a call seeking comment.

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

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(14) comments

ShackMaster

Will Hizzoner the Mayor instruct Her Majesty the City Manager to conduct the investigation herself? Wouldn't surprise me a bit.

CTJINVA

City Council needs to get to the bottom of this nonsense. Investigate what happened and correct it. These statements and conflicting counter statements are causing you and your City Manager to lose our confidence. We'll be watching what you do closely.

CTJINVA

Again, thanks for the "news", Winchester Star. Why wasn't this included in the paper THE NEXT DAY? This meeting happened on Tuesday evening...FOUR DAYS AGO!

WINCBEST

I would really like to know what else this over payed City Manager is receiving from her contract with the city? She she got a big raise bump and what other benefits come with this that we pay for?

CRT

She receives the same benefits as every other full time city employee. The terms of her contract are public record. I don't recall her getting a "big raise bump" recently.

Conservative

Don't make this partisan. It's obvious that this city manager is inept. So, Winchester has a School Superintendent who allows convicted sex offenders to roam the halls freely while their victims are forced to pay for private school. And Winchester has a city manager who is completely out of touch. Glad I don't live in Winchester! Beginning to sound like Front Royal's leadership or Strasburg's leadership! Grab your popcorn folks!

firechiefowens

So...if I read this right. The REPUBLICAN members of the City Council are asking for an inquiry into past personnel practices that would include the current "personnel matter" involving Chief Garrett that clearly has two different and contrary explanations being offered by the City Manager...and the DEMOCRATS were opposed?

Is the City Council really going to turn this matter into a PARTISAN issue?

How do you go from the City Manager making a very clear public statement that Chief Garrett’s absence was due to a “personnel matter” one day and then a second public statement saying it was not? How can the DEMOCRATS and all members of City Council not see that something is amiss here?

How personnel matters are handled should be THE most NON-PARTISAN issue at all times. The elected leadership has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that ALL City employees are treated fairly.

The contradictory public explanations being made by YOUR City Manager is making the City of Winchester look very bad. I agree with Councilman Veach that this should get a wider look. It’s time to shine the light of day on this issue.

akagoofy

My motion was current and BACK THROUGH AT LEAST 2017.

So that City Hall personnel actions current and back through 2017 were investigated.

akagoofy

We all need to understand and find what personnel actions are truly happening.

When Council meets again, we will clearly define the scope and parameters of the investigation which includes current City Hall personnel actions. Citizens and City employees are owed this. Les V.

bobodoo

Tax Rate

Real Estate $0.93 per $100.00 of assessed value

Vehicular Personal Property - Tax years 2016 and prior $4.50 per $100.00 of assessed value

Personal Property - As of tax year 2017 $4.80 per $100.00 of assessed value

Business Personal Property $4.50 per $100.00 of assessed value

Downtown Primary Assessment District $0.23 per $100.00 of assessed value

Downtown Secondary Assessment District (commercial use only) $0.13 per $100.00 of assessed value

Machinery and Tools $1.30 per per $100.00 of assessed value

Virginia State Sales Tax 5.3 percent

City of Winchester Meals Tax 6.0 percent

Combined Sales Tax and City Meals Tax 11.3 percent

City of Winchester Transient Lodging Tax 6.0 percent

jwbbud

key takeaways with Winchester government:

3rd highest tax rate in state on real estate...

City manager who makes 175k a year

A city manager who is alright being over compensated but doesnt want to take care of her own.

A city manager who wants to be the supreme leader, or else...

duffyhome

Winchester has the third highest real estate tax rate in the state? Do you have a link to the stat? I want that information for future reference.

CRT

That's just not true. https://www.tax.virginia.gov/sites/default/files/inline-files/2017-local-tax-rates.pdf

delaurel66

Thank you for keeping this on the front burner so the citizens of Winchester can see for themselves what is going on at City Hall. Winchester residents should not have to worry if a fire truck or ambulance is going to show up at their house when they dial 911. With so many emergency services staff leaving, Winchester is already short handed. This past Saturday while ALL the City units were at Winchester Medical Center, dispatchers had to call in Frederick County units to answer ambulance calls in the City. Thank goodness the City has a good relationship with the County and no calls went unanswered. No one got hurt, and no property was lost (this time).

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