Ousted Kennewick fire chief demands an apology — and his job back

Kennewick’s ousted fire chief demanded an apology and his job back Monday, saying the city lied when it said he resigned from his post.

Ex-chief Vince Beasley and city officials both attempted to manage the aftermath of a chaotic weekend that saw the city and its now-former fire chief swap conflicting messages about Beasley’s status as a city employee.

The public clash culminated with the city announcing the 37-year fire department employee had “effectively resigned” when he sent a statement to the media accusing the city of attempting to fire him.

The city said it has launched a national search for a new chief and that Beasley’s resignation is irreversible.

“I did not resign. I was terminated,” Beasley told the Tri-City Herald on Monday following a defiant news conference at Badger Mountain Park. “There’s a different spin being put out there.”

Beasley would not say if he will sue for wrongful termination. But he said he wants his job back along with public and written apologies for what he called a character assassination.

“My goal is to see this injustice corrected immediately,” he said. “I would like to see the city council of Kennewick rise up and demand an explanation of the secrecy of events that led us here today.”

That’s unlikely in Kennewick’s council-manager form of government. The city council hires — and fires — the city manager, who oversees day to day operations and personnel.

Mayor Don Britain said the council did not discuss Beasley in executive session and is uninvolved in the matter.

“That completely falls under (the city manager’s) authority,” he told the Herald.

Chaotic weekend

Beasley, who became the city’s 12th fire chief in 2014, said his difficulties began with a poor performance evaluation in 2018.

Kennewick Fire Chief Vincent Beasley Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

Beasley disagreed with the evaluation, but was committed to correcting the identified deficits.

The acrimony was well hidden. In February, Beasley praised city leaders in a routine “message from the chief” attached to a job posting for firefighters and EMTs.

“How fortunate we are to have such unwavering support and encouragement from our City Manager and Council Members who provide us with the resources we need to continue performing our jobs to the highest level possible,” he wrote. “I feel so blessed to be amongst community leaders who anticipate needs ...”

But Beasley received his poor evaluation as a sign the city wanted to end his employment.

“I could see the ball coming. Eventually, they got there,” he said.

Beasley said he was told he would be terminated on Sept. 3 and ordered not to attend the city council meeting that evening. Department heads are typically required to attend the council business sessions in case questions arise.

He continued to work the following week. He attended the Sept. 10 council meeting to give a scheduled update on fire department business. The session went well, he said.

A week ago, he met with Marie Mosley, the city manager, and Ken Hohenberg, who serves as both police chief and assistant city manager. Beasley said he was offered a separation agreement offering a few months of insurance and salary.

He refused to sign.

He refused again at a subsequent meeting on Sept. 17, insisting he had no plans to retire. He again declined to sign the agreement.

He said he was placed on administrative leave.

He said, she said

Evelyn Lusignan, the city’s spokeswoman, said she could not disclose sensitive personnel discussions or if there was a formal improvement plan in place for Beasley.

The round of messages and counter messages began Friday afternoon, with each side saying it was only trying to correct misinformation from the other.

Lusignan said Mosley sent an email on Friday to the fire department after Beasley told colleagues he was being terminated. She said Mosley’s message said the city was working on a possible retirement plan.

“It’s fair to say the city manager was working on a potential retirement agreement, couldn’t reach it, then the chief took his own actions,” Lusignan said Monday.

Beasley went public on Saturday.

“When I saw the email to the fire department, I could see they were misrepresenting my stance. It was important for me for the men and women I work with to have the correct information. I had to clarify it,” he said.

The city viewed his statement as a resignation and issued a news release Sunday. Hohenberg will oversee the fire department until a new chief is named. The city also has one of two deputy fire chief positions open.

Lusignan said the city had to respond to Beasley’s public statement.

“Normally we wouldn’t put in a press release that there were performance issues,” she said.

The Kennewick Firefighters Union acknowledged the dispute without commenting directly in a statement posted to Facebook Sunday morning.

“In light of the recent discussions between the City Administration and Kennewick Fire Department Leadership, your Kennewick Union Firefighters want to remind you that we are committed to the safety of our citizens by providing the best emergency services we can,” said the post.

Sixth highest-paid employee

Beasley earned $164,300 in 2018, making him the sixth highest-paid employee in the city of Kennewick, according to a salary database requested by the Tri-City Herald.

The highest paid employees are the city manager ($190,000), police chief ($175,000), public works director ($167,000), human resources director ($167,000) and city attorney ($167,000)

His salary rose to more than $171,192 this year.

Beasley said he stands on his record as Kennewick’s fire chief, citing new fire stations, improved staffing and grants secured as evidence of thoughtful leadership.

“You will see steady growth, excellence and a positive culture. it is much more positive today. Those are the signs of leadership,” he said.

The city is opening the fire chief job up to all applicants.

It has also enlisting the Western Fire Chiefs Association to conduct a confidential recruitment process with existing fire chiefs who could be matched to Kennewick.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.