Fire chief returns from suspension following heated staff meeting
Red Wing Fire Chief Shannon Draper returned to the job July 10 after serving a two-week suspension without pay for offensive behavior, including an expletive-laden fire department staff meeting after learning about a personnel complaint, according to documents obtained through a data request.
The discipline was handed down June 24 following an investigation into complaints made against Draper. City Council met in closed session and then voted unanimously to approve the suspension for violation of city policy, demeaning city employees and failing to meet the council's "expectations for performance and leadership."
Draper deferred comments on the suspension to City Hall in a phone interview July 11, though provided assurances about the fire department.
"We have good staff, we have good support from the community and City Council, and we're going to continue doing our job providing excellent service for the community," Draper said.
Under state law, specifics of the discipline were labeled private employee data until the disciplinary action was completed. The Republican Eagle submitted a data request and received a reprimand letter and partially redacted copy of an external investigation conducted by a Rosemount law firm.
Draper was told in mid-April that a complaint had been filed against him and that a reporter at the April 22 City Council meeting mentioned an unsubstantiated rumor that the firefighters union had taken a vote of no confidence, according to the investigation report. Though the union did not take such a vote, Draper told an investigator the rumor "was pretty devastating."
Draper called a department meeting April 23 where he reportedly "yelled and directed obscenities at fire staff members" in violation of city personnel policy against harassment and offensive behavior, according to the disciplinary letter.
An audio recording of the meeting was given to the investigator.
In a transcript of the meeting, Draper talked about the fire department's shared goal of serving the Red Wing community and defended his time as chief, citing rules changes and the newly opened second fire station on the city's west end. He said he welcomed an investigation into the complaint lodged against him and hoped to learn from it, but said it would change the dynamics in the department. By the end of his remarks, Draper appeared to get angry and used expletives to scold anyone seeking to hurt the department or him personally.
"My bags are unpacked and it will be a cold day in hell when you pry this badge off of my shirt," Draper is quoted in the transcript.
The investigator concluded the speech could be interpreted as retaliatory and intimidate firefighters from participating in the pending complaint investigation.
Earlier in the day April 23, Draper reportedly asked an unnamed individual if they had signed the rumored vote of no confidence. Draper said he would not be angry if the individual had signed it, but the investigator determined the exchange was improper and could be viewed as intimidating.
The investigation report also references a comment Draper reportedly made April 24 in a fire department kitchen. During a conversation about dirty knives, Draper stated "We could remove the knife from his back also," an unnamed individual told the investigator. In the investigator's opinion, the comment was retaliatory and harassing.
Draper became fire chief in August 2016. He has nearly three decades of firefighter experience and was previously fire chief in Vermillion, S.D. His annual gross salary is $106,766.40.