St. Paul Fire Chief Tim Butler was disciplined for retaliating against a subordinate, according to a written reprimand city officials released this week.
The investigation into Butler’s actions was completed in 2016, but the findings weren’t immediately released publicly because Butler appealed the decision to Mayor Chris Coleman and Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann.
Beckmann’s written reprimand of Butler, dated Dec. 22, 2016, was released this week after Butler’s appeal was denied late Tuesday, said Angela Nalezny, St. Paul’s director of human resources.
Butler did not return a message Friday seeking comment. He became fire chief in 2007, and earns a salary of $146,910.
Beckmann’s letter said that a Fire Department employee complained that Butler had retaliated against the employee because the employee, whose identifying information is redacted in the letter, was part of a previous investigation that concluded in October 2016.
Beckmann said that Butler’s actions put the complainant in an “extremely difficult” position because of the authority he yielded as fire chief.
“Given the reporting relationship and your ability to impact [redacted] work environment, your acknowledgment of the complaint and questioning the complainant equates to intimidation by a superior officer,” she wrote. “The intimidation could cause a chilling effect on the individual bringing forward other complaints, which is why the investigator considered this to be retaliatory.”
Prior investigations have shown that Butler did not know how to manage situations involving complaints, that “you don’t understand how to conduct yourself in the aftermath of an investigation” and that he showed “incredibly poor judgment,” Beckmann wrote.
She ordered Butler to stop commenting about the outcome of an investigation to any employee, particularly the complainant. Additional infractions of the city’s workplace conduct policy could result in more severe discipline, she warned Butler in the letter.
The case in Beckmann’s letter is one of five workplace conduct complaints against Butler, who has had a strained relationship with the department’s union. According to Nalezny, two complaints against Butler were closed in March and August of 2016 and have no public data available, meaning the findings did not result in discipline. Two other complaints are pending; the nature of those complaints are protected under state law pending formal discipline.
Mike Smith, president of the St. Paul firefighters union, IAFF Local 21, said Friday that he lodged a complaint against Butler on Oct. 8 after the chief sent an e-mail to a firefighter on Oct. 4 with the subject heading “blue falcon.”
The chief was responding to a social media post in which the firefighter shared concerns about plans to cut a fire engine from a station. Smith also received the e-mail, and said it wasn’t until others alerted him that he did some research and learned that “blue falcon” is often used in a derogatory fashion. The first letters in “blue falcon” stand in for a phrase with an expletive used to describe one person doing wrong against another, Smith said.
“It’s unprofessional and unacceptable,” said Smith, who was also critical of the mayor’s handling of Butler. “The mayor’s office has failed to enforce the workplace conduct policy on Chief Butler for almost two years.”
Ben Petok, the mayor’s spokesman, said that all employees are guaranteed a full review of complaints.
“There’s a process when any member of the department makes a complaint,” Petok said. “Certainly, the president of Local 21 understands that, and once that review process is completed, a determination is made about whether discipline is appropriate, and if it is, what the discipline should be.”
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708