JCFD assistant chief placed on probation, raises concerns about chief

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JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Yet another Johnson City firefighter is accusing the department’s chief of harassment and discrimination and this time it’s one of his assistant chiefs. Public records reveal Assistant Fire Chief Jerome Palmer handed over his documented concerns after Fire Chief Mark Scott recently gave him the worst review of his 22-year career.

Palmer is the same firefighter who the chief previously admitted to calling “Gomer f— Pyle.” While the city never disciplined the chief for what an internal investigation found to be possible abuse of a subordinate, we’ve learned the assistant chief is now on probation. City records show the six-month probationary period was the result of a review that determined overall, Palmer needs improvement.

During his most recent review, Chief Scott questioned Palmer’s ability to provide the responsibility, dedication and leadership for the position. He criticized Palmer’s ability to get work done in a timely manner, measure success, work as a team player and hold firefighters accountable.

The chief also raised concerns that Palmer often doesn’t make it in to work on snow days and that he routinely goes out of town on his weekend days off, more than other supervisors, and doesn’t clearly communicate who is in charge while he’s away. Ultimately, the chief questioned if Palmer’s willing to accept the level of responsibility that is required after his shift ends, on weekends, and on holidays, even saying the man failed to get an important grant application filed in time, because he was traveling out of town.

“Assistant Chief Palmer is a man of good character and is very intelligent,” Chief Scott wrote in his review. “However, his ability to provide the responsibility, dedication, and leadership for the position of Assistant Chief of Operations is in question. It is questionable whether he possesses the traits that are necessary to provide direction to personnel, empower employees, complete work assignments through others on time, measure successes, and hold personnel accountable. Since Assistant Chief Palmer supervises approximately 106 employees, it is imperative that he is ‘production oriented’ and that he measures success on a daily basis. If not, the efficiency and productivity of the entire department suffers dramatically.”

Palmer signed the evaluation, but made it clear he didn’t agree with it. He appealed the “Needs Improvement” rating and attached his documented concerns. Palmer’s documents not only respond to the chief’s criticism about his work, but also take things a step further in calling out the chief for unprofessional comments and behavior.

Palmer, whose wife is expecting a child next month, documented statements reportedly from the chief about the Family and Medical Leave Act. In April 2016, Palmer noted the chief said the FMLA law needed to be re-done for the, “Wimps and sissies to take off to be with their families and babies,” according to public records.

In June 2016, Palmer noted Chief Scott said, “The wimpy a– guys take off on FMLA for a baby,” according to public records.

Palmer also accused the chief of religious discrimination for not properly communicating with him so he could leave work in time to observe Passover. In addition, he said the chief is harassing his personal life by questioning the times he’s away from work on his time off and denied the allegation that he doesn’t communicate with others before he leaves.

Overall, he said he felt the chief was giving him a vote of no confidence in his abilities and capabilities. He added the chief never previously made him aware of his deficiencies.

“I feel that a hostile work environment exists and view this evaluation as a personal attack instead of an appropriate objective evaluation,” Palmer wrote in response. “As further example, this evaluation ranking is the worst one I have received in twenty two years of my employment with the City of Johnson City. Despite my feeling of this being a personal attack, I will continue to do my best in all that I do in enhancing this community and this agency. I disagree with the ranking status of this evaluation.”

Chief Scott responded to Palmer’s appeal by saying the evaluation is a performance appraisal and not a character appraisal, noting he gave him positive ratings in the areas he met expectations. He also complemented him at times too.

“Assistant Chief Palmer has oversight for several areas of responsibility and is expected to address each of those areas,” the chief said. “He was documented with a positive rating for the areas that he achieved expectations and provided ratings for areas that need improvement. That is the true purpose of a performance appraisal.”

In the end, the human resources director, with the city manager’s approval, upheld Palmer’s rating and probation.

“After careful consideration and discussion with the City Manager we are upholding the overall needs improvement rating given to you by your direct supervisor,” HR Director Steve Willis said in a letter to Palmer on August 8. “Our stance is driven by the fact you were rated as “needs improvement” on five (5) of the seven (7) evaluation factor categories. We are very appreciative of your time and input during our meeting held on July 21st, and we want to provide you the necessary support to ensure your success…You have a tremendous amount of potential and we hope that this set-back doesn’t deter you from having a desire to grow in your career with the city. Your appeal and comments are duly noted, and we recognize there are many areas where we all can improve as we move forward.”

Willis continued, saying Chief Scott would meet with Palmer to clearly define his expectations over the six-month probationary period. Willis also promised to get involved.

“One thing that is apparent from our discussion is that a communication gap exists in the current environment,” Willis said. “I will personally work with Chief Scott over the coming weeks and months to help close that gap. Additionally, I will also schedule a follow-up meeting with you at the end of October to gauge our progress.”

Chief Scott named Palmer assistant fire chief in late 2014.

Just last week, the International Association of Fire Fighters gave the chief a vote of no confidence at its annual conference.

According to a City of Johnson City spokesperson, since becoming chief, Scott has never received a written evaluation. Instead, like all of the city manager’s direct reports, the spokesperson said the city manager meets with the chief weekly or every two weeks to review his “performance, goals, objectives, and any areas needing improvement.”Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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