Augusta fire battalion chief placed on administrative leave during investigation

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Augusta Fire Department Battalion Chief Tommy Willis was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday while the city investigates allegations he is using his position to promote a personal business on the side.

Business card for Tommy Willis  Staff
Staff
Business card for Tommy Willis

Willis, the brother of Fire Chief Howard Willis, has run 1-800 Board Up since 2007 without receiving the required authorization from the fire department. The company secures homes by boarding windows and doors after they are damaged in a fire.

Acting Fire Chief Mike Rogers and Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan are also looking into allegations Tommy Willis is using his fire department position to distribute advertising materials and gain access to more customers.

Shanahan said Willis has his city e-mail address on his Board Up business cards and part of the investigation is to determine whether Willis is using city computers to work on his personal business.

“That’s against our policy,” Shanahan said. “It’s a conflict of interest using taxpayer money to earn money.”

Rogers said he began questioning Willis about the business after an Oct. 2 story in The Augusta Chronicle revealed the battalion chief had broken the policy. He said he decided to put Willis on leave Thursday until the investigation is complete.

“I didn’t want him on a fire scene making decisions when he had all this extra pressure on him now,” Rogers said. “We placed (Willis) on leave … basically for his good and for the good of the organization.”

The Chronicle initially identified in its Sunday article a Jan. 18 incident in which a fire department investigator broke the conflict-of-interest policy by calling Board Up to the scene of a fire for a homeowner.

Rogers said the incident was isolated, but The Chronicle, through an open records request, found five more instances in which firefighters called Board Up to fire scenes.

“When that incident came up, I said that was an isolated incident because at the time I thought it was,” Rogers said Thursday. “It was not an attempt to cover anything up. That was all the information available to me at the time.”

Rogers said employees are not permitted to promote any one business to the public, and that it is department policy for homeowners to call board-up or restoration companies on their own.

According to a Sept. 11 fire investigation report, Battalion Chief James Freeman called Board Up after a fire damaged a Crawford Avenue house.

Freeman also called Board Up while working as chief March 4, when most of a house was engulfed after a bathroom drape caught fire from a candle.

“901 called Board Up,” Lt. Troy Milam wrote in the investigation report, referring to Freeman by his unit number.

When the house that Sandra Burley rented caught fire in April, she said firefighters approached her about a business that could come to secure the home. Without mentioning other similar businesses in the area, firefighters called 1-800 Board Up to the scene for her.

“It was like, ‘We have somebody that can come board it up,’” Burley recalled.

Homeowner Joann Latimore said 1-800 Board Up showed up without her calling when her house caught fire Sept. 13. In the investigative report, Capt. Jeffrey Daniel wrote that “1-800 Board Up was called to secure the scene,” without stating who called the company.

“They came and were there and asked if it was all right for them to board up my house,” Latimore said. “I just thought that was the proper process.”

Soon after, Latimore received a $384 bill for 1-800 Board Up’s work of boarding two doors and three windows, which her insurance company covered.

On Thursday, Daniel said he could not recall who called 1-800 Board Up to the scene. Daniel said he called 911 dispatch and said, “I need somebody out here to secure the house, and Board Up is who showed up.”

However, a 911 dispatch supervisor said the dispatch center does not have a list of local boarding service competitors, adding that the only request the center receives for such companies is for 1-800 Board Up.

Mark Hutchison, the owner of Paul Davis Restoration of Augusta, said he hasn’t received the same calls from the fire department for work as 1-800 Board Up since 2007.

Although Board Up advertising material was posted around Fire Station No. 13 this month, there were no materials for competitors such as Paul Davis, First General Services of CSRA or MRC Construction.

Rogers said it could take two or three days to complete the investigation into Board Up’s relationship with the fire department. He said that since the investigation began, all fire stations have been asked to remove 1-800 Board Up advertising materials, such as coffee mugs, calendars, note pads and business cards.

“There’s no soliciting going on anymore in the department,” Rogers said. “We’ve changed, and we told our people and made them aware. We’re not going to be a free advertisement for anybody else.”

Shanahan said that until the investigation is complete, he can’t speculate on how Willis will be reprimanded. He said punishment for breaking policy could range from a letter of reprimand to termination.

On Thursday, Augusta Commissioner J.R. Hatney said abusing a government position is something that will not be tolerated and that the commission has voted to fire employees in the past for conflicts of interest.

“You’ve got to set a precedent,” Hatney said. “You’ve got to be consistent with it. (Administration) dismissed some employees for stealing time before, and you’re not supposed to use government property for your own gain. I just want them to be consistent.”

BROKEN POLICY?

CONFLICT OF INTEREST POLICY

The Augusta Personnel Policy and Procedures Manual states employees have an obligation to avoid engaging in activities that might be conflicts of interest.

According to Section 800.023, “An actual or potential conflict of interest occurs when an employee is in a position to influence a decision that may result in a personal gain for that employee or for a relative as a result of Augusta, Georgia’s business dealings. For the purposes of this policy, a relative is any person who is related by blood or marriage, or whose relationship with the employee is similar to that of persons who are related by blood or marriage.”

OUTSIDE EMPLOYMENT POLICY

According to Section 800.024, “All outside employment must be approved in advance by the requesting employee’s Department Director or Administrator. The request must include a description of the business for which the employee plans to work and the hours the employee plans to work.”

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commonsense-is-endangere
43
Points
commonsense-is-endangere 10/06/11 - 04:18 pm
0
0
Time to send him back to

Time to send him back to polishing fire trucks.

dougk
3
Points
dougk 10/06/11 - 05:03 pm
0
0
I wonder if I could get a
Unpublished

I wonder if I could get a paid vacation for sleazily violating policy.

Sweet son
11634
Points
Sweet son 10/06/11 - 05:48 pm
0
0
@ Cassandra. I told you not

@ Cassandra. I told you not to get too excited about this story. The media and others would take care of Willis and all of the others who had a second job with Board Up. Once again I am not supporting solication by on duty firefighters for their company but if they had handled it right they should have approached the insurance agents in the area to get business for their company. All of the other vendors for this service could have and should have done the same thing. Willis might be disciplined for his side work and possible solicitation but as far as nepotision I would be willing to bet that both of the Willis brothers came up through the ranks and that Bubba made Chief. :):)

Cassandra Harris
-3
Points
Cassandra Harris 10/06/11 - 05:57 pm
0
0
Sweet son - the . meant that

Sweet son - the . meant that I was putting a period on it seeing as it is now being looked into. I don't know why you brought up nepotism, I never questioned how either of them got their rank, just the fact that due to the high position Tommy Willis held, and the fact that his brother was Fire Chief, Tommy knew hew was breaking policy and possibly the law. As to what will come of the "investigation"......well this is Augusta after all.

tgentry
277
Points
tgentry 10/06/11 - 06:41 pm
0
0
Oh give me a break. The only

Oh give me a break. The only issue here is that the email address used should not have been the county address. I have no issue with any Fire personal creating a business or doing side work. No public safety person makes enough money at the job at hand. Mr. Willis has been at the department for what almost 40 years? How is his record in the 40 years he has been doing this public service? The simple solution is to change the business card. This company has been in business since 2007. Why is this all of a sudden a issue? Is it because of Chief Willis and now the media is digging and fishing for anything and everything on the Willis family? This is a witch hunt. If this was such a big issue, why haven't the other companies raised complaints? I for one am glad that we have fire personal still in all of our stations. With all the economic bad news we could be like Atlanta and have stations closed. I support all the Fire department personal and the professional life at risk jobs they do. I wished they could make enough money so they didn't have to work side jobs but that is not going to happen. I hope they all get the safety equipment needed to perform the duties they need to do as well. I just think that the media is once again fishing for a story. Why not go back to the real issues at hand?

dougk
3
Points
dougk 10/06/11 - 06:43 pm
0
0
It may have been a witch
Unpublished

It may have been a witch hunt, tgentry, but apparently it turned up one or two witches. Successful, I say.

Craig Spinks
818
Points
Craig Spinks 10/07/11 - 04:56 am
0
0
(T)gentry, If the media wants

(T)gentry,

If the media wants to go after some big fish, they should investigate how consultants and attorneys "earned" the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid them last year by the RCBOE when it is furloughing teachers and other employees.

red ryder
0
Points
red ryder 10/07/11 - 05:18 am
0
0
perhaps calling board up from

perhaps calling board up from the scene is also a violation of office
what about it Deputy Administrator.... Will you be investigating those firemen?

Riverman1
93694
Points
Riverman1 10/07/11 - 06:42 am
0
0
I'm with Tgentry. The big

I'm with Tgentry. The big crime here is using a city e-mail address?

Again, how is any of this different than the private protection the Sheriff's Office runs on the side being coordinated out of publicly owned offices, phones and computers. Do the supervising officers who organize the special protection get a cut?

I'm not slamming either one of them for making extra money, but let's be realistic here.

Riverman1
93694
Points
Riverman1 10/07/11 - 06:45 am
0
0
Someone posted before that

Someone posted before that the company gave a heater and some other appliances to a fire station as if that were a crime. It sounds like they are taking care of the men to me. All the men utilize the heater and other things.

yak11
0
Points
yak11 10/07/11 - 07:15 am
0
0
Oh Jeeze, the Goonion thugs

Oh Jeeze, the Goonion thugs at it again. Here is a shocker, in another county the homeowner waited 3, count'em three days for another company to secure the house. In the city 3 days means, urban outdoorsmen stripping the house clean, and maybe burning it again. Yeah I have heard the BS from the other contractors, but the sad fact is BoardUP moves fast and secures buildings which makes it safer for the neighbors and the homeowners.

When will the readers of the Chronicle understand this attack on Howard Willis and his brother are part of the Goonion led attempt to look like the Unions have strength? Probably the day that homeowers get their wish and some twit is running the department. Then as houses burn to the ground and insurance rates jump to cover the losses the Augusta Residents will wonder aloud "How could we have been so stupid."

Riverman1
93694
Points
Riverman1 10/07/11 - 07:20 am
0
0
There is a push to get a

There is a push to get a certain person into a newly created job of Emergency Management Director that Bubba Willis does on the side now saving the taxpayers hundreds of thousands when all is considered. The attacks on him and his brother will continue. If the Emergency Services Director's job does materialize, I hope it's someone from out of town.

treynolds
0
Points
treynolds 10/07/11 - 07:20 am
0
0
I believe that Augusta has

I believe that Augusta has much more to worry about than this waste of a story (like the Augusta government in general). This reminds me of a old fashion witch hunt, just grabbing at anything to make Willis look bad and the folks who are stepping in to look good!! SAD!

GodisSoGood
1042
Points
GodisSoGood 10/07/11 - 07:58 am
0
0
How is board-up being called

How is board-up being called on a fire scene any different than if any other contractor was called? I'm not seeing the significance in these reports. Seems to me the violation of privacy by posting the names of citizens in the report is a greater travesty of justice.

dougk
3
Points
dougk 10/07/11 - 08:36 am
0
0
It is more than apparent from
Unpublished

It is more than apparent from some of these comments that the lack of professional ethics, from the top down, will continue to plague Augusta government with the tacit and expressed approval of its citizens.

kmb413
533
Points
kmb413 10/07/11 - 08:56 am
0
0
that is karma for ya.

that is karma for ya.

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 10/07/11 - 12:43 pm
0
0
Everytime I post about

Everytime I post about corruption and names names I get it removed and warnings, so I will just say this;

Funny how certain folks can make off with tens of thousands and even MILLIONS of dollars from the county tax coffers and no one ever gets investigated.

Folks in positions of power get uniform contracts, construction and "consultancy" gigs all the time, yet no one cares if certain last names are attached or they are dipping into funds that no one else cares about anymore.

Yet let Bubba's brother make a couple of hundred bucks here and there and everyone screams BLOODY MURDER!!!

This is so obvious it is painful..

Bubba, do not resign, make them fire you, take the six months pay and call it a day.

Again, this would be funny if the problems were not so serious in Augusta right now.

Brad

PR
0
Points
PR 10/07/11 - 12:51 pm
0
0
Time to clean house at AFD.
Unpublished

Time to clean house at AFD. It is obvious that AFD needs some real professional leaders, not the current good 'ol boys. Doubt that anything will be done though...just business as usual in Dis-gusta.

GodisSoGood
1042
Points
GodisSoGood 10/07/11 - 02:22 pm
0
0
I agree with you 100% Brad.

I agree with you 100% Brad. Very ironic that certain previous employees were not investigated....and were allowed to squander taxpayer money....yet when that was brought to light, the old familiar race card got played.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 10/07/11 - 02:31 pm
0
0
Lets look at it this way...

Lets look at it this way... what if policemen were getting paid by lawyers to pass out business cards at scenes of accidents or crimes? Is that okay? Wasnt this brought up by a competing company on a rotation list, similar to the rotating towing list the RCSO uses? Just seems like a huge conflict of interest to me.

allhans
24885
Points
allhans 10/07/11 - 02:35 pm
0
0
To my knowledge most firemen

To my knowledge most firemen (and policemen) have part-time jobs/businesses. Want your house painted? Call a fireman. One that I know, who has since retired, had a roofing business for 20 years.

Willow Bailey
20605
Points
Willow Bailey 10/07/11 - 04:26 pm
0
0
Brad is right again.

Brad is right again. Augusta swallows elephants and chokes on gnats.

dougk
3
Points
dougk 10/07/11 - 05:47 pm
0
0
Elephants draw gnats.
Unpublished

Elephants draw gnats.

Riverman1
93694
Points
Riverman1 10/07/11 - 05:58 pm
0
0
TaylorB said, "Lets look at

TaylorB said, "Lets look at it this way... what if policemen were getting paid by lawyers to pass out business cards at scenes of accidents or crimes? Is that okay?"

Taylor, you mean kind of like if an establishment were being hit often with unruly crowds, thefts, burglaries or whatever and the owners were advised by police officers they should start purchasing special protection from the officers?

sjsd17
9
Points
sjsd17 10/07/11 - 07:17 pm
0
0
OK...no one was complaining

OK...no one was complaining about any of this until the story was done. The "other businesses" haven't complained in 4 years because they didn't want to TRY and get employees out of their beds at 1, 2, 3, 4 am for a couple hundred bucks. The only reason Board Up can and does show up within 20 minutes is....they employ firefighters...the ones who are accustomed to getting up at all times of the night...and none of the firefighters who work for Board Up even work for Augusta except Tommy Willis...that I know of.
This "story" doesn't want to go away because it's still shining a bad light on Howard Willis and with a "NEW" (not) person in charge...it helps shine the light on them in a more positive manner, so they can attempt to slide in to the Chief's position....even though they don't meet the educational requirements. Howard Willis was given the job with the knowledge that he didn't have the requirements either, so "they" are hoping against hope that "they'll" be afforded the same courtesy...GOD help us all if that happens!!!!

For those who may not know how things work around the fire stations...the firefighters furnish the majority of things around the stations...except pots, pans, dishes and beds. All TV's and alot of the sofas and chairs...ALL OF THE FOOD AND GROCERY STAPLES...cable, internet and anything else along those lines....they don't have a problem doing that either...it's always been that way...so, anything that someone feels like "giving/donating" to the stations (coffee mugs, note pads, hand sanitizer, calendars and such) just saves them money and alot of those type items are used on fire calls...like writing down all the info needed for the report...making sure you don't get "something" on your hands that needs to be washed off, before you get back to the station. Things like that are only helping them do their job and they appreciate it.

There are all kinds of "advertisements" in the fire stations...Pierce calendars (by the way, that's the only kind of fire engines and trucks in Augusta)...note pads from Gold Cross ( they have the 911 contract for Richmond County) and probably a few others that I can't think of right now...so to me this makes "the OMG story" seem more like a witch hunt and a "look at me, look at me" scenario than anything else.

IMHO

red ryder
0
Points
red ryder 10/08/11 - 05:29 am
0
0
what this town needs is a

what this town needs is a good enema...

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 10/08/11 - 07:04 am
0
0
sjsd17, 100% correct, this is

sjsd17,

100% correct, this is NOT about corruption, it is about getting rid of Bubba.

I sure wish the Chroncle was as active in investigating REAL corruption in our giverment, but then again, lots of "good" family names who are big buds with the publisher would be on that list. So you can forget that.

Let's just continue being distracted by the CABAL's left hand on issues like this so they can continue to pick our pockets with the right hand to the tune of MILLIONS.

Augusta is a cesspool of backwards ideas and thinking.

Kill the fireman who is making a few extra legit bucks and allow the developers to "steal" millions, and this is about getting rid of Bubba Willis anyway, not about corruption.

Riverman1
93694
Points
Riverman1 10/08/11 - 07:22 am
0
0
Brad and SJSD, exactly!!!

Brad and SJSD, exactly!!!

Cassandra Harris
-3
Points
Cassandra Harris 10/10/11 - 08:32 pm
0
0
red ryder - you made me snort

red ryder - you made me snort my tea out my nose with your 6:29. ROFLOL!!

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