FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — For 16 years, Rocky Garzarek had been the fire chief for the City of Franklin until a News 2 investigation prompted his abrupt resignation.
After News 2 contacted city hall about allegations that Garzarek may have been participating in high-level city Zoom calls from out of state for weeks on end during the pandemic, city leaders took action and began an internal investigation.
On June 16, Garzarek officially stepped down.
In a letter obtained by News 2, Garzarek wrote a single sentence that said, “I hereby resign effective immediately as the fire chief at the city of Franklin.”
Eric Stuckey is the City Administrator in the city of Franklin.
“I can’t speak to exactly where he was at, that is part of the question we were inquiring about,” Stuckey told News 2 Wednesday morning outside city hall.
Our investigation uncovered that from March until sometime in May the former fire chief was not physically in the city of Franklin full time as required by the city charter.
“It’s obviously a first responder public safety function. And that presence and that leadership is critical. That is why our city charter requires the police chief, the fire chief, and the city administrator, my position, to live in the city,” said Stuckey, “And so that presence and that ability to be available to respond and physically be present is critically important.”
Garzarak was also engaging in regular Zoom calls with city officials while he was physically several hours away from the city of Franklin, also a violation of the city’s rules.
“This was not authorized appropriately,” said Stuckey.
In a June 10 letter to the city administrator waiving his right to a departmental hearing on this disciplinary issue, Garzarek wrote:
“I would like to apologize to you personally for you having to deal with this matter of controversy surrounding me. In the midst, of a world wide coronavirus pandemic of unprecedented times. I am sorry that we are dealing this situation.”
The former chief also claimed he told the city administrator he would be caring for his elderly parents who were out of state.
“While I communicated with you early on that I needed to provide for the needs and care for my elderly parents, I failed to keep you apprised of my whereabouts with frequent updates for why I needed to remain where I was working remotely. I made some mistakes in judgment in believing that you were okay with me remaining close to my parents and choosing to work remotely from various locations.”
When asked about this, Stuckey said there was a very brief conversation about Garzarek needing to be in Alabama to help his parents, but there was never a discussion about the length of time.
“There was never discussion about an extended period of time, an extended period of absence, and being other places out of state for an extended period of time where you could not be accountable for your responsibility as a department head,” said Stuckey.
The former fire chief also wrote this in his letter:
“During the last 2 months, if notified of a major emergency, I could have returned to Franklin within eight hours or less. As always, we make sure that one Chief officer is in town to conduct the day to day business of the fire department. During the time in question, I was actively engaged in city business as you are very aware of after reviewing my calendar and with our last two discussions. I communicated with you and the city leadership team almost daily, my administrative staff at least three times a week, and my senior staff members daily. At no time, did I neglect my duties as a leader of my team.”
The former chief concluded by saying, “I would humbly ask that my 46 years of service dedicated to public safety, with the last 16 years serving as fire chief in a community that I love and have been devoted to serve, are considered when rendering your decision.”
Stuckey told News 2 he is unclear where Garzarek had been over the course of the last 2 months, and when asked if Garzarek had used a city vehicle while out of town, Stuckey said he did not believe so.
Stuckey also said after News 2 inquired about the chief’s out of town status, he began to gather information internally.
“We had questions from sources, saying they were not sure what’s going on,” said Stuckey.
Stuckey maintains the city fire department has an ISO rating of 1 which is excellent and he says the city will maintain its high level of excellence for the 156 firefighters and the citizens of Franklin.
“We have accountability and responsibility for our people,” said Stuckey.
The day Chief Garzarek resigned, 26-year Franklin Fire Department veteran Glenn Johnson was appointed as interim chief. Stuckey said city hall and the fire department already has shown great confidence in Chief Johnson to lead the Franklin Fire Department forward.
Franklin City officials tell News 2 the matter is closed and no other members of the fire department are being investigated in connection with this issue.
“We will take some time to determine our process for the selection of our next fire chief,” said Stuckey in a statement to the fire department, “In the meantime, I know you will continue to serve the community to the very best of your ability and that you will fully support Chief Johnson and the entire fire department team during this time of transition.”