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UPDATED Fire chief resigns

Submitted by on 1, November 8, 2010 – 10:24 amNo Comment

Updated at 1:56 a.m. Wednesday, November 10

A city official said Monday morning that Fire Chief David Kapler resigned Friday, but a letter his attorney sent the city on Wednesday says Kapler will sue to challenge his termination if a proposed settlement isn’t approved.

“We believe that the allegations against Chief Kapler have been blown out of proportion and are a result of a misunderstanding concerning the scope of the agreement between Chief Kapler and prior City Manager Debra Kurita regarding the use of City gas for his personal vehicle,” Kapler’s attorney, Denise Eaton-May, wrote in a letter to city officials Wednesday.

Mayor Beverly Johnson said Kapler resigned at 5 p.m. Friday and that Interim Chief Mike Fisher would continue to lead the department in that role. She said the City Council on Wednesday rejected a settlement agreement presented by Eaton-May.

Council members present at Wednesday’s meeting said Eaton-May believed Kapler is entitled to his post-employment benefits. Kapler’s 2007 contract entitled him to lifetime medical benefits if he stayed in the chief’s job for three years – a deadline that passed this October 1.

But Eaton-May wrote that the city’s human resources director, Karen Willis, informed Kapler that his retiree health benefits were never approved by the City Council. Johnson said Monday that the city’s charter gives the council alone the right to approve or reject the benefits.

Eaton-May said Kapler intends to sue the city for lost wages and retirement benefits, emotional distress and attorney’s fees if the settlement agreement wasn’t approved.

“It is clear that the allegations of using city gas without authorization will seriously damage his standing in the community, impact his reputation and impair his opportunity to earn a living in the future,” Eaton-May wrote, adding that a recent Internet check turned up 900,000 hits on Kapler, due to widespread news coverage of the allegations against him. She accused city officials of making “inaccurate and inappropriate” comments to the media regarding the gas use allegations against Kapler.

Eaton-May did not return calls seeking comment last week and Monday.

Kapler came under fire in August when he was photographed gassing up a blue BMW convertible at the city’s pumps. Eaton-May wrote that Kurita had given Kapler permission to use city gas for his personal vehicles, while Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant had said he only had permission to fuel a Honda Ridgeline truck the city outfitted for his official use. Neither item was memorialized in writing. He was placed on administrative leave in September.

Kapler resigned from an earlier post as the chief of the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District after he was accused of soliciting contributions from a casino owner and developer for equipment and cash in exchange for support of development projects they hoped to build. Kapler said the money and equipment were requested as mitigations for fire hazards posed by the proposed projects. He also faced accusations there that he had misused a district-owned vehicle, though he said his contract allowed him to use the vehicle for personal trips.

The city he last served as chief is also facing a discrimination lawsuit filed by two people who applied to be firefighters. The suit, which was decided in favor of the city of Rochester, Minn. but reversed on appeal, alleges that Kapler and others in the department failed to heed grant guidelines requiring the department to hire women and minorities.

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