Politics & Government

Charlotte Fire Chief Jon Hannan placed on 3-month probation

dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

After a two-week standoff over the leak of a confidential city document, Charlotte Fire Chief Jon Hannan was placed on three-month probation, the city announced Tuesday morning.

Hannan will remain as chief and will be paid his annual salary of $166,000 during the probation.

Hannan, who has been chief since 2007, had told City Manager Ron Carlee two weeks ago that he had released the document, according to multiple city officials familiar with the investigation.

The document was about the vice president of the Charlotte Firefighters Association Local 660, Marty Puckett, who is a critic of the chief.

In the March 4 document, Carlee told Puckett in a letter that he could no longer work as an unpaid intern for City Council member Claire Fallon, because Carlee said it violated the city charter. Carlee said Puckett risked being fired if he continued to work for Fallon.

In an email in February, Fallon had called for Hannan to be fired. As Fallon’s assistant, Puckett had distributed the email to other council members and the media.

In a statement released to the media, Hannan said Tuesday, “...part of leadership includes integrity, and that integrity requires acknowledging mistakes, learning from them, and moving on. Earlier this month, I made a mistake involving the release of a memorandum from City Manager Ron Carlee that involved our fellow firefighter, Marty Puckett. I have apologized to Mr. Puckett for that mistake.”

The March 4 letter from Carlee was reported by WBTV, the Observer’s news partner.

In his statement, Hannan said he “mistakenly understood that all topics discussed at that meeting, including the memo, had previously been made public through the actions of others.”

A news media story on the memo prompted another council member, John Autry, to ask for an investigation. Under N.C. law, the letter is part of Puckett’s personnel file and isn’t open to the public. Releasing it could be a misdemeanor with up to a $500 fine.

Puckett said Tuesday that Carlee should give all information in the case to the District Attorney.

“I would expect him to continue to faithfully carry out his duties and turn over all relevant information related to this matter to the District Attorney’s Office, to determine if a crime has indeed been committed,” Puckett said in a statement.

Carlee discussed the issue with council members at a closed meeting March 28. As word of the meeting spread, as many as 200 firefighters packed the council’s meeting room to show support for Hannan, who has been with CFD for 38 years. He started as a dispatcher in 1978 and became a firefighter in 1983.

The release of the Puckett letter comes after the Firefighters Association has complained that the fire department will punish employees who question leadership.

The most high-profile case involved former fire investigator Crystal Eschert, who was fired in fall 2014 over what the city said was an offensive Facebook post.

Eschert claimed the department was retaliating against her after she acted as a whistleblower about the quality of renovation work at a new office building for her unit.

Carlee hired an outside attorney to investigate. The report, released last year, found no direct evidence of retaliation against Eschert. But it said that many firefighters believe that complaining will lead to “unfair punishment, targeting or retaliation.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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