The Williamson County Grand Jury indicted former Franklin Fire Chief Rocky Garzarek for one alleged count of official misconduct during his final year of employment with the city, and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday that he had been booked into the county jail on Aug. 20 and released on a $3,000 bond the same day.
An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office found that Garzarek “logged excessive mileage” in his city-owned vehicle “without an apparent business purpose” and worked remotely from out of state without authorization.
Garzarek resigned from the Franklin Fire Department on June 16 of last year after 16 years of service as the department’s chief and a total of 46 years in public service.
This resignation followed a meeting with City Administrator Eric Stuckey, who had sent Garzarek notice of a departmental hearing scheduled for June 8, 2020, related to Garzarek’s alleged failure to gain approval for remote, out-of-state work from March to May of 2020, his alleged neglect to notify his supervisor of his whereabouts and his alleged failure to request or take time off from work during his time out of state. Garzarek waived his right to a departmental hearing and resigned about a week later, effective immediately.
“As city administrator, I was having frank discussions with Chief Garzarek regarding my performance expectations,” Stuckey said in June of 2020. “Through this process, he made the personal choice to resign at that time. I respect his decision and thank him for his service to the city.”
A city of Franklin official said the city became aware of the state’s investigation in May of this year and received the official report from the comptroller’s office on Monday as it was released to the public.
Investigators could not account for excessive mileage
The report noted in a 13-business-day period primarily in last March, Garzarek logged 3,350 miles in his city-owned car, but his calendar and city personnel “revealed no apparent business purpose for the excessive amount of mileage driven,” noting that the distance from his home to Franklin City Hall (his primary workspace), to each Franklin fire station and back home totaled just over 48 miles, and department personnel said that station visits were rare for Garzarek.
The report also found that Garzarek logged 1,503 miles in the vehicle over most of last February, during which he drove to a conference in Alabama that totaled roughly 500 miles round trip. The report says investigators could not account for the remaining 1,000 miles.
Report alleges unauthorized out-of-state work
When Franklin Mayor Ken Moore called a state of emergency in March of last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many city employees began working remotely, including Garzarek. However, the state’s report said he failed to gain authorization for out-of-state work that he later relayed to the city.
The report found that Garzarek used vacation days to travel out of state on March 19, 20 and 23 last year, and he notified his administrative assistant that he would be “working remotely until further notice.” He took no additional leave after his return to work on March 24 and was reportedly present for all city video conferences and was reachable via phone.
The report shared that Garzarek later told city officials that he had spent time in Alabama and Florida beginning in mid-March, and his supervisor said he was not apprised.
In a letter to Stuckey dated June 10 last year, Garzarek shared that over the previous two months, if he had been notified of an emergency, he could have returned to Franklin within eight hours, saying he had been out of state to care for his parents.
“While I communicated with you early on that I needed to provide for the needs and care of my elderly parents, I failed to keep you apprised of my whereabouts with frequent updates for why I needed to remain where I was working remotely,” Garzarek wrote in the letter. “I made some mistakes in judgment in believing that you were okay with me remaining close to my parents and choosing to work remotely from various locations.”
Garzarek further wrote that, during his absence, he did not “neglect [his] duties as a leader of [his] team.”
City looks into process improvements
The report also found two “deficiencies” on the city’s end of things: first, that it “failed to ensure compliance with the city’s” city-owned vehicle policy, and second, that it “failed to ensure that records of proper authorization for travel were retained.”
For the first, a city official shared that the city is “looking into ways to enhance mileage monitoring.” And for the second, the city shared that Garzarek had traveled from one approved conference in August of 2019 directly to a second for which he had not received approval.
“In this circumstance, the back-to-back nature of this one travel seemed to have caused that to be missed,” the official said. “We are ensuring that administrative personnel are verifying compliance so this does not occur again.”