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Ga. fire chief responds to discrimination allegations from former EMS chief

Augusta Fire Chief Chris James released a written statement denying that he mistreated former EMS Chief James Kelly over his gay “lifestyle”


Augusta Fire Chief Chris James has released a written statement denying allegations made by EMS Chief James Kelly that he discriminated against Kelly because of his sexual orientation.

Photo/Augusta, Georgia

Susan McCord
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta Fire Chief Chris James has denied in a written statement several claims made by former EMS Chief James Kelly, who accused the chief of discrimination last week.

The Augusta Commission is scheduled to take a discussion of the fire chief’s handling of the alleged incidents and related issues at a 12:30 p.m. closed-door meeting today.

Kelly, who was assigned to oversee the department’s fledgling ambulance service, wrote commissioners last week to say he was subjected to discrimination, hostility and inequality during his two years on the job because of his “lifestyle” as a gay man.

In his response Monday, James said Kelly never “revealed any lifestyle choices” to him other than mentioning his children.

While Kelly quoted his former supervisor as saying James “would never have hired him” if he knew he was gay, James denied saying it.

“I never stated to anyone” that if he knew of “James Kelly’s lifestyle, I would have never hired him,” James said.

He said Kelly also did not give the department two weeks’ notice of his resignation, as he claimed, and never got a written warning for wearing a goatee to fire administration on the day of his father’s funeral, as Kelly stated.

On the day of the April 2019 funeral, Kelly told commissioners, he was called to meet with James and former fire department attorney Jody Smitherman to sign a job description.

James said Kelly was there to help with an EMS investigation, after which his new title was “addressed.”

Kelly said that at the meeting, he was belittled by the chief and Smitherman about his facial hair.

Kelly was wearing informal fire dress with the goatee, which James said Smitherman, Deputy Chief Shaw Williams and he observed.

Kelly said he was told that “before (James) was willing to give him the title of chief, he needed to show me that he could act like a chief and look like a chief.”

James said it was Williams, not himself, who organized the meeting.

James also disagreed that Kelly needed to attend the chief’s lengthy Monday morning meetings. Kelly said his immediate supervisor, who was allowed to attend the meetings, was a “great individual” but “had no ideation as to what I was doing, nor was he qualified to do most of my duties.”

The chief has made development of an EMS program a priority almost since taking office in 2012. It was the reason the department needed a dedicated staff attorney, James told the commission.

He said the Monday meetings were only for “division heads” and direct reports to him, while Kelly would be pulled in “if needed.”

As of Sept. 9, Kelly remained on the city EMS personnel roster, along with four lieutenants and eight sergeants.

In July, when Kelly said he asked James for a raise based on his expanded EMS duties, James’ response said instead that Kelly wanted to apply for the job of deputy chief of operations “as a way of getting himself a raise.”

Kelly said James belittled him and said he needed a decade of training before James could introduce him to “the people to start getting your face known.”

James also denied Kelly’s allegation of discrimination for being forced to work in a cubicle for an extended period, and said Kelly did in fact have an administrative assistant to assist him, though Kelly denied he had help until this year.

James said that on Sept. 2, Williams had been the recipient of Kelly’s lone resignation notice and had nothing from Aug. 28, as Kelly claimed.

James did not address Kelly’s next claim, that on Aug. 28 James had secured raises for several EMS sergeants and lieutenants.

James said after the Sept. 2 resignation letter, Kelly stopped returning calls for several days, so the department was forced to make his resignation effective immediately.

The letter to Williams stated that Kelly wanted his resignation to be effective Sept. 15, but to use his vacation time to cover the two-week period “to assist” with training his replacement.

James said the vacation request made “clear on its face that Mr. Kelly did not provide any notice of his intent to resign, and instead attempts to demand vacation time for what would be his notice period.”

The chief also denied Williams said “I did not want him to bring the equipment and material that belonged to Augusta Fire Department to the office,” while Kelly’s letter said he was told not to return.


©2020 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)