Grand jury

Misuse of city-owned truck nets ‘official misconduct’ prosecution

This firetruck services the department in Franklin, Tenn. (Photo city of Franklin)

Hamilton County health department administrator Becky Barnes is involved in open and admitted violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § Tile 68-5-104, quarantines and isolation, and has made the frivolous argument in a civil case that she is “exercising discretion” by disobeying it. This position puts her squarely in the sights of the official misconduct statute at Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-16-401, which is seeing action in a Williamson County criminal indictment. — DJT

The Center Square, Aug. 23, 2021 – Former Franklin Fire Chief Ronald Garzarek was indicted for official misconduct after a Tennessee investigation found he used his city-owned truck to travel 3,350 unaccounted-for miles in 13 business days in early 2020.

By Jon Styf / Center Square contributor

Garzarek resigned his post as of June 16, 2020.

Ronald Garzarek

The investigation, conducted by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and released Monday, found Garzarek took his city-owned Chevrolet Tahoe to Alabama and Florida and was working remotely without permission from his supervisor between Feb. 27, 2020, and March 16, 2020.

“All government entities in Tennessee must provide oversight when they authorize staff to take home vehicles,” Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower said. “This would include regular monitoring of mileage and having clear policies about the acceptable use of city-owned assets.”

The city provides vehicles for some employees, and the policy states “a take-home vehicle should be used primarily for commuting and city-related business.” Franklin is in Williamson County.

While that policy does not define the “de minimus” use for personal driving, the investigation found the 3,350 miles used during a 13-business day period to be excessive. Staff have fuel cards to re-fuel for city business, but Garzarek did not use the fuel card during that period of time.

Trucks in front of a firehall in Franklin, Tenn. (Photo city of Franklin)

“Certain department personnel under his supervision became aware that he was working out of state, but Garzarek led them to believe that he was authorized to do so,” the comptroller’s report said. “However, Garzarek’s supervisor stated he was unaware Garzarek was working out of state, and no approval had been given for him to work remotely out of state.”

A formal meeting was scheduled with Garzarek on June 16, 2020, to discuss the matter. He resigned that day.

“In a May 29, 2020, meeting, Garzarek told city officials that he had traveled to Alabama and then traveled to Florida in mid-March,” the report revealed. “Garzarek stated that he spent time in Alabama and Florida and came back to Franklin on one occasion. In follow-up conversations, Garzarek stated that he could have been back to the city within eight hours of being notified of a ‘major emergency.’ ”

The investigative report also found several department deficiencies led to the issues, including that city officials failed to ensure compliance with rules for city-owned vehicles and city officials did not retain records related to proper authorization for travel.

“City officials indicated that once they became aware of Garzarek’s absence, they immediately took action to determine whether he had violated city policies,” the report stated. “City officials stated they have corrected these deficiencies.”

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