Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District Chief Dennis Reilly on Monday said his departure will allow a department in turmoil to "hit the reset button," pointing to "intimidation and bullying" from a small group of people over the past year.
The Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District Board of Directors, SBFPD, accepted Reilly’s resignation, releasing him from his contract, at their Monday, Sept. 17 board meeting. Chief Reilly’s last day with the district will be Friday, October 10.
He will continue to be on the payroll, using accrued vacation time, until Friday, October 31. He will also begin drawing the pension he has earned from the State of Missouri Local Government Employee’s Retirement System. He plans to move out of the state with his family. When interviewed, Chief Reilly chose to not to disclose his career plans and future location.
SBFPD board president Brian Layman and secretary Denise Dill cast a yes vote to accept the resignation request. Board treasurer Bob Hemen abstained. Hemen abstained from all the votes taken during Monday night board meeting. Hemen said the reason he would not vote or make any motions was because he alleged Dill was not a “legal” board member and it could bring legal ramifications. Hemen had an attorney present at the meeting.
Contention and strife
There has been contention between Hemen and the board and chief since before Hemen was elected to the board. Hemen served on the SBFPD board from 2010 to 2016. Hemen lost an election to Layman and was reelected to the board in April 2018.
Several citizens spoke during the citizen comment portion of the meeting saying that Hemen caused strife and an inability to get business accomplished during his last term on the board and now he was causing problems again. One citizen said he “wished Hemen would resign instead of Chief Reilly because it would be good for the community.”
The board censured Hemen in July. A censure is defined in district code as an action taken by the board of trustees when a board member willfully refuses to abide by policies in the district code. To read more about the reasons for the censure click here.
In August, the board then initiated a Quo Warranto lawsuit against Hemen in an effort to dislodge him from his position due to allegedly “performing actions that are inappropriate for an elected officer to perform.” To read more about the quo warranto click here.
Hemen had been outspoken in the community about the board's actions and his issues with the district, until the censure and quo warranto were initiated. Hemen said he had issues with district policies concerning personnel and finances.
In his resignation letter dated Friday, Sept. 14, Chief Reilly stated that he and his wife Ann have decided that it is in his personal and professional interest to tender his resignation as Chief.
“I have spent my entire working life in service to my country and my community. I have always held myself to the highest of moral and ethical standards. Every decision I have made has been aimed at protecting my community and the people under my command. The performance of my duties has exposed my family to numerous sacrifices and we have willingly born the burden of my service. I have no regrets for what I have done or the decisions that I have made.
“Since the early part of this year both myself and our District have come under a constant attack from Mr. Hemen and his small group of supporters. My ethical decision making, my suitability for command, and the performance of our staff at emergencies has been criticized by his supporters. These people have no background to make the assessments that they do. The strategies of misrepresenting facts failing to provide context that is needed to objectively discuss an issue, and the offering of the uniformed opinions that are not technically or tactically sound, have become common place.
“It is also very clear that Mr. Hemen has a personal agenda to create disruption in the organization and is antagonistic against our employees. I have personally witnessed and have been a victim of his campaign of intimidation and bullying against employees, both current and past.
“I will no longer allow myself to be exposed to the harassment that have become common place in dealing with Mr. Hemen. I am extremely proud of all we have accomplished, and my hope is the Fire District will be able to work through this very difficult situation.”
Citizens filled the 30 minutes the board allows for citizen comments on one subject. The subject was the commendation of Chief Reilly’s character, accomplishments and qualifications. Additional citizens wanted to speak, but could not, due to board policy.
Eric Newman, President of the Lake Area Firefighters, spoke to the board saying Chief Reilly had brought consistency, professionalism and excellent firefighting knowledge to the district. “Chief Reilly has implemented major changes in the district since he has been here,” Newman said. “He has closed a fire station, moved one, sold trucks and got a tax levy passed. He has been very supportive of the firefighters and he added a new recruit academy, a seven-week intensive training for new guys in the spring and fall. I am disappointed he resigned… but I understand he has felt a lot of pressure. He has had a successful 40-year career and he feels every decision he is making is being questioned and he doesn’t want to end his career this way. It is my understanding that he is moving on to a better job.”
Citizen statement directed at Hemen: “You confronted me in the Sunrise Beach post office and said ‘Chief Sullentrop has to go, I am going to change this district.’ Then, we acquired Chief Reilly, an absolutely wonderful fire chief who is doing an awesome job. You have a lack of willingness to work well with others. You have a personal agenda because of something from the past, and that has taken over your doing what is best for this community.”
James Dill spoke to the board, saying that when the district was seeking to replace former SBFPD Chief John Suellentrop, he had made a list of requested qualifications. Dill said the list “sounded just like Chief Reilly and ‘is’ in fact Chief Reilly.” This was his list:
- Has extensive experience in the fire service
- Knows how to, and will, lead his people into the most challenging of calls
- Knows all the aspects of firefighting and can thoroughly explain it to the public/media
- Knows the importance of training, both mentally and physically to insure safety and efficiency at all times
- Will not ask his men to do something he can’t or wouldn’t do himself
- Will protect confidential and personal records from being viewed or destroyed
- Will set the example of the highest standards
- Is passionate about his job and the community he serves
- Is motivational
- Can train his firefighters to become captains and chiefs
- Is transparent and honest
- Will prepare the district for the future
- Will recommend spending money wisely
- Is extremely organized
Branding Iron Co-Owner Laurie Preator addressed the board saying, “I had no idea until last week how bad it was between one member of the board and the fire district or my attendance to board meetings would have been perfect.”
She then addressed Heman. “Hemen wants all firefighters to live in the district and he wants to take the district back to the good old days, when volunteer firefighters were the dominant force,” Preator said. “We need up to date equipment, manned stations, outstanding top-notch trained employees. We are safer because Chief Reilly has done all these things. These firefighters risk their lives every day to serve citizens. Most have spouses that have careers and children in schools and it is ludicrous to ask them to uproot them at this pay. Chief Reilly was very dedicated to this community and he will move on to another district where they will appreciate him and reap the rewards of his knowledge, dedication and hard work.”
Hemen requested to speak during the meeting but was told he could not because he did not follow the proper board protocol. According to Layman, Hemen needed to request to amend the agenda when it was adopted by the board at the beginning of the meeting, if he wanted to add his comments. When Hemen continued to talk, SBFPD Attorney Tom Lorraine asked if there was an officer of the peace in the room. There was, and Hemen quit speaking at that time, but he did speak periodically throughout the meeting.
The board announced they would go into closed session. Hemen’s request to have his attorney attend the closed session was denied by Lorraine. Normal protocol is for the board to reopen the board meeting and report any actions or decision made during the closed session. But according to SBFPD Administrative Assistant Lori Favilla, Layman had enough of the drama, forgot to reopen the session and left for the evening. Also, according to Favilla, the board, in closed session, approved appointing SBFPD Acting Chief Officer Tim Vester to the position of Lieutenant.
Emergency closed session
The board will hold an emergency closed session on Tuesday, Sept. 18 to discuss the next step in finding a replacement for Chief Reilly.