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Former Franklin fire chief indicted for misconduct due to alleged unauthorized travel

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Rocky Gazarek

Former Franklin Fire Chief Rocky Garzarek resigned from his position on June 16 after failure to gain approval for remote work between March and May of this year, according to city of Franklin documents. 

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.”

(2) comments

John M

I have never met the Former Chief. I have however, practiced law here in Williamson County for about 22 years, largely in Criminal Defense. This type of behavior, if true, is a great reason to discharge an employee. The Fire Chief is an employee. As such he has a boss or bosses, ie City Administrator, Mayor, Board of Alderman. That sounds like a lot of folks who should have or could have known he was out of town. Some may even be embarrassed for this to have come to light. Our officials were facing a new Covid world, as were we all, even the Former Chief. I, for one feel they all handled the situation quite well. As I recall, previous reporting cited caring for elderly parents out of town as his excuse for his deleterious actions. To some extent, the rules changed for everybody during this time. Many employees, private and public, misinterpreted or even took advantage of their new work realities. His were poor choices, even arguably, reckless. However, in order to rise to the level of Criminal Behavior, more than that is required. Were his employer a small business owner, it is doubtful an arrest, much less an indictment would have occurred. Many employers have been disappointed by the words, "This is a civil matter, not criminal" when seeking recompense from law enforcement when an employee has taken liberties unanticipated or approved by the employer. If sued, the Former Chief may likely have to break out his wallet and compensate the city for the use of the vehicle. But, I hope the District Attorney will balance his actions against a life lived, presumably above board, and consider the drastically changing world in which his actions occurred; and then use the discretion bestowed on that office to not prosecute the charge.

LouderH

Maybe I overlooked it in the article, but what precipitated the deep dive into calculating his milage? I am not a lawyer so as a layman I have to say that the fact that this conduct rose to the level of a criminal indictment is shocking. During these COVID times new norms have been stumbled upon at home, work and school. As for the miles on the vehicle, I suspect most work vehicles make stops at the grocery, school, family homes...basic miles add up quickly. I understand it appears there were out of town miles and the issue of working remotely out of town is on the table, but, again, these are unprecedented times and what jumped off the page at me is that it is clear someone was intent on deep diving into this guy's miles and work from home whereabouts. It makes me wonder if every city official in Williamson County or Nashville or anywhere was to be scrutinized at a detailed level like that over the past several months, could some nonwork related miles on their vehicles be found? Could they be faulted for any unreported stops during work hours at the grocery, school family member's home or having left town with family to work remote for any period of time? Or more concerns? Truly, I don't know this person or the politics related to this investigation, but as a civilian citizen reading through the details leading up to his resignation my overall impression was, "Really?" On an unrelated, but similar note regarding remote working, I am curious to see how things will pan out for all these California defectors who say they are taking advantage of working from home by moving to TN and living larger then they could on WC cost of living expenses but still on California salaries. Wonder when California economy will catch on to that.

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