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Fire chief resigns after policy violation investigation
Emergency services employee time cards audited for inconsistencies
Swafford mug
Fire Chief Lanier Swafford. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Longtime Dawson County Emergency Services employee and current Fire Chief Lanier Swafford will work his last day with the county on Friday.

Swafford was demoted in January from his joint role of emergency services director and fire chief and his pay was reduced after a December 2017 investigation of county policy violations under his administration.

Swafford put in his notice on April 20, and said last week that he decided to resign from his position “due to some recent changes in the leadership structure of Dawson County Emergency Services.”

County Manager David Headley restructured the department in January, placing Swafford second in command, and hired Danny Thompson as the new director.

Thompson is a volunteer firefighter with Dawson County and retired from the Sandy Springs Fire Department in 2016. He currently works for Parsons Corporation as a Traffic Incident Management Specialist.

Thompson will start work as the director of emergency services on Monday.

According to documents obtained through an open records request, the investigation and restructuring was spurred by statements made by former Fire Marshal and Deputy Chief Tim Satterfield, who retired in December.

Satterfield requested a meeting with Headley and County Attorney Lynn Frey via email November 14 to discuss payout for 6,896 hours of compensatory time that he claimed he had accrued in his 12 years of working for the emergency services department.

Headley declined to pay the hours, and stated in a letter to Satterfield that banking of comp time hours “goes against any policy we have had in place since your hire in 2005, and also goes against the policy we currently have in place.”

Satterfield claimed that it was a common practice in the department for Swafford and Ricky Rexroat, then-deputy chief of administration, to give comp time for salaried employees when they work over 120 hours, despite the fact that there is no comp time policy. He also said that firefighters had been paid extra for doing jobs around the stations such as welding and carpet cleaning.

Headley stated in a January 10 report that after he reminded all of the county department directors that there is no comp time policy, Rexroat continued giving time off and adding hours and pay to the department payroll, “which violates purchasing, payroll and personnel policies.”

Headley initiated an audit by independent auditing firm Rushton and Company, which reviewed a sample of time cards from 2017 and found that record keeping was “sloppy,” that some hand entries on time cards did not match digital clock entries, as well as discrepancies between the time cards and the log book of employees on shift.  

“The audit also disclosed that on occasion vacation time was submitted as regular hours worked rather than reducing the employee's accumulated vacation hours,” Headley wrote. “This is the responsibility of Ricky Rexroat.”

Satterfield and other emergency services employees made further complaints about Rexroat, stating that he was uncooperative, arrogant and that he was a favorite of Swafford.

Rexroat resigned January 12 after he was informed by the county manager that he had violated several county policies related to performance, personal conduct, unfair hiring practices and attitude and behavior.

“My discussions with EMS staff, Danielle Yarbrough (human resources director) and ( the county attorney) have concluded that the conduct and management style of Ricky Rexroat appears to be where the internal problem exists in emergency services,” Headley wrote. “That is not to suggest to the reader that Lanier Swafford does not play a part in the current dysfunction of his department.”

Headley went on to say that he believes that much of what was alleged has been going on for years and that it was a way to save taxpayer money, including the practice of paying firefighters for jobs around the stations as opposed to hiring contract workers.

Current County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said Tuesday that when he was director, firefighters with skills such as welding or carpentry were often hired to perform work at the stations when not on duty in order to save money.

Swafford gained the role of emergency services director and fire chief after Thurmond retired from the director position in December 2015.

“This abstract system was a way of doing business for so long that it created an operational culture not of circumventing the system of being self-sufficient and being good stewards for the citizen,” Headley wrote. “As cultures change so does that way of doing business. Today, such operations are viewed as irresponsible.”

Headley stated he did not believe Swafford had intentionally made any violations and that his offer for Swafford to take a role as second in command would not be seen as a disciplinary measure.

He also intended to demote Rexroat to a position without responsibility for administration and place him under Assistant Chief Danny Speaks, as a disciplinary measure.

Rexroat could not be reached for comment prior to publication.

Satterfield declined to comment further on Tuesday other than saying his request for comp time was not related to Swafford’s resignation.

Satterfield is currently running unopposed for District 3 County Commissioner  in the primary election.

Swafford began his career as a volunteer firefighter with Dawson County in 1989 and became chief of emergency services in 2007. A certified EMT and paramedic, he also holds a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration.  He also currently serves as deputy coroner for Dawson County.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve the citizens for over 25 years,” Swafford said Friday. “Dawson County is blessed with a great staff of firefighters and medics who daily answer the call and I am looking forward to joining their ranks as a volunteer firefighter after next week. I wish Director Danny Thompson and Chief Danny Speaks the best in their new positions and am hopeful the community will support them in the same manner they did me.”