COPPERAS COVE — Details regarding former Fire Chief Burney Baskett’s termination came to light after the city responded to one of the Herald’s Freedom of Information Act requests.
City Manager Andrea Gardner fired Baskett on Feb. 13 after seeing several of the city’s policies violated, documents revealed.
Baskett was Cove’s fourth fire chief since 2008, serving about six months. Gardner, who is married to Killeen Fire Chief Jerry Gardner, began her position as city manager in 2007. During that time, two fire chiefs retired, Sean Hughes resigned after six months on the job and Baskett was fired.
The city policies Baskett allegedly violated included a social media incident in September and several purchasing order violations in January.
After posting an “indecent” picture on his personal Facebook account in September, Baskett was placed on three days of unpaid disciplinary suspension, given a final written warning and had his yearlong orientation period with the city extended three months, according to city documents.
The picture, which is included in city documents, shows a nearly naked man with a bikini-like sock covering his private area. Baskett, who worked six years as the fire chief at South Padre Island, said the link appeared on his page after he was “tagged” by a Facebook friend. He also said it was posted to show the outlandish things many islanders saw during the area’s spring break.
The picture’s post time read 2 p.m., according to city documents, which signified Baskett might have posted or responded to the link during work hours. Baskett, however, denies this, and said he was certain it was done during personal time.
In January, Baskett was cited for violating purchasing policy after failing to have Gardner review and sign off on several documents.
On Jan. 22, Tracy Molnes, a purchasing officer with the city of Copperas Cove, emailed Police Chief Tim Molnes about a purchasing policy violation. According to city documents, fire personnel did not follow proper procedures for around $6,500 worth of fire and truck apparatus order changes, failing to have Gardner sign off on them.
Baskett said Gary Young, Cove’s deputy fire chief, told him as long as changes were within 10 percent of the original price, personnel could execute the change.
Another violation stemmed from a Texas Forest Service grant, which funded fire inspector training classes Jan. 27. Fire department personnel quoted the grant as covering $700 per person instead of $610 and failed to submit the required number of companies offering the fire inspector training class, according to city documents. Five firefighters attended the course.
Baskett also did not have Gardner sign off on a firefighter’s promissory agreement before enrolling him in the class. The firefighter, who previously failed the class, agreed to pay the city about $1,000 in course costs if he failed again.
Young handed Police Chief Tim Molnes information regarding the violation Jan. 27, according to city documents. Young did not approach Baskett regarding the policy infraction before approaching Molnes.
“I do feel Young played a part in this issue, big or small ... by either omission of guidance or over commission of giving misinformation; he manipulated these events to some extent,” Baskett said in an email to Molnes after a series of back-and-forths between many city employees regarding purchasing procedural details.
“Chief Molnes also identified that mid-management within the fire department has been tasked, without proper guidance, as upper management is just accepting and signing off on what mid-management completes,” Gardner said in a letter to Baskett, explaining it was his responsibility to ensure the polices, rules and city charter were followed.
Baskett said Gardner only approached him in person once regarding the purchasing process issues, and that was when she had a meeting with him regarding his continuing employment at 3:10 p.m. Feb. 13. She fired him at 4:05 p.m., according to city documents.
Other Cove departments and department heads have had troubles similar to Baskett’s when working with Gardner, he said. At other fire departments where he worked, Baskett said he had good working relationships with city managers, received awards and only left South Padre Island’s department to be closer to family.
“I’ve been doing this 32 years. I’ve worked for five departments ... we did a lot of purchasing there ... and I have never had any issues with purchases, I have never had any issues like in Copperas Cove in any other place,” Baskett said Thursday, explaining the purchasing procedure difficulties started before he was chief and stretched across all city departments.
Baskett now works as the executive director of the Johnson County Emergency Services District No. 1.
The Copperas Cove fire chief position is waiting to be filled, city spokesman Kevin Keller said.
He said the city, Gardner and Young had no further comment.
Contact Courtney Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7559