YFD chief denies knowledge of 'last chance' agreement
Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley told 21 News, "I've got 26 years on the job. But I had no idea I had a last chance agreement."
21 News obtained a copy of the agreement, and asked Finley about it Wednesday morning, just hours before the union representing Youngstown Firefighters prepared to take a "no-confidence" vote regarding Finley.
Union officials say they plan to ask Mayor Tito Brown and the city law department to conduct an investigation into the fire department's operations and Chief Finley.
Youngstown Professional Firefighters Local 312 will meet Wednesday night to discuss complaints which union president Charlie Smith says includes safety issues such as problems with the department's radio system that Smith says resulted in injuries to two firefighters.
The “no-confidence” vote is directed at Chief Finley, who Smith blames for helping create a hostile work environment in the department through alleged bullying and threats.
Information obtained through a public record request submitted by 21 News has revealed that when Mayor Brown appointed Finley as Chief in February 2018, Finley was working under a so-called “last chance agreement” due to previous disciplinary actions.
Finley's disciplinary file outlines five allegations, two of which are violent, one involving intimidation, and two related to inappropriate sexual remarks about another firefighter's wife.
Finley and a fire captain became involved in a shoving match. Although records noted that Finley was at fault because he became enraged quickly, both of the men involved were issued written warnings.
According to the disciplinary file, Finley is said to have lifted a fire lieutenant out of a chair and slammed him against two walls because the lieutenant had failed to repay the money he owed to Finley.
Although Finley could have been fired, a pre-disciplinary hearing determined that Finley would be placed under a ten-year last chance agreement and a 45-day unpaid suspension.
Under terms of the agreement, Finley would be terminated if he engaged in any aggressive conduct, including threatening or intimidating behavior.
Finley was also ineligible for promotion on the next scheduled test and was required to undergo anger management.
Finley was suspended for two days after another argument with the same fire captain from the 2005 shoving match. The investigation found that Finley was insubordinate for calling the supervisor worthless and useless.
Reminding Finley of his last-chance agreement, then Fire Chief John O'Neil wrote that the conduct came “dangerously close” to violating that agreement. O'Neil called the incident “The most indignant display that I have witnessed as long as I have been the fire chief.”
There were no disciplinary actions following allegations by a firefighter who accused Finley of making a sexual remark about the firefighter's wife and telling several people that he would pay $4,000 for her to perform a sex act. Finley then allegedly told the firefighter's wife to meet him in another room, adding that he has $4,000 for her.
The city law department reviewed the allegations and decided that the city did nothing wrong in terms of failing to provide a safe working environment. The findings also note that Finley had filed a lawsuit against the firefighter at the time over a landscaping job, and that may have been a factor in filing the complaint against Finley well after the alleged incident took place.
"This internal fighting and attacking my character you know if that's the road he wants to take that's on him (Union President Smith). I'm a professional," Chief Finley said.
Finley told 21 News that union president Smith is making the situation personal, not professional. "I'm not going to stoop to his level," said Finley.
Mayor Brown agreed that the union head was making the issue personal, " I think these now are becoming personal attacks because individuals didn't get the job to be the Fire Chief. (Mayor Brown says Smith was a final candidate for Fire Chief).
Chief Finley said that now that the department has tough issues ahead, the union is making all of these personal allegations against him. As for the union's allegations, Finley says he doesn't know what they're talking about.
The firefighter's union has been vocal in its opposition to the pending closing of Fire Station Number 7 on the city's North Side, as well as the elimination of some battalion chief positions in the department.
The union is expected to reveal more about their complaints following the completion of the member's no-confidence vote Wednesday night.
Below is a copy of the 'last chance' agreement obtained by 21 News.