Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn has fired the city's fire chief after a nearly two-month investigation.
John Hellmers, who had been Kenner's fire chief for more than a decade, was notified via letter Monday afternoon that he had been terminated.
"I'm in an awkward position here," Hellmers, a three-decade veteran of the city's Fire Department, said as he stood next to a cartload of boxes from his office Monday.
"When I get my position back, I still have to work with the mayor," he said, loading possessions into the rear of his SUV before driving away.
Hellmers declined to comment on the nature of the charges against him, which have not been made public, but he said he intends to file an appeal and expects to be reinstated.
Hellmers' attorney said the dispute boiled down to a political argument.
"It's pretty clear that this was done in retribution for Chief Hellmers using his authority to hire and fire firefighters," attorney Galen Brown said. "Chief Hellmers is a career firefighter and administrator."
Mickey Giarrusso, president of Kenner Firefighters Association Local 1427, said morale under Hellmers had sunk to a very low level.
Union membership "unanimously voted no confidence" in Hellmers, Giarrusso said. "He really wasn't running the department."
Giarrusso said some bills were going unpaid and equipment maintenance was being neglected.
Hellmers has 15 days to file paperwork with the city's Municipal Police and Fire Civil Service Board, which has 10 days after that to schedule a hearing. If Hellmers' appeal fails, he can take his case to 24th Judicial District Court.
Hellmers has been on paid leave since early September, when he was notified that an internal investigation into his conduct as fire chief was underway.
Ryan Bergeron has been serving as interim chief in Hellmers' absence.
Zahn remained tight-lipped on the matter Monday, saying it would all be made public at the appeal hearing.
Hellmers and Zahn appeared to be at loggerheads over hiring and firing earlier this year. A state attorney general's opinion, issued Aug. 17 in response to a request from Hellmers, explicitly made the fire chief responsible for his personnel.
Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn said Wednesday that he has suspended the city’s fire chief pending an …
"The charter expressly delegates to the appointed fire chief the authority to hire and fire employees of the Fire Department," the opinion said.
Hellmers has been at the center of controversy before. In 2012, he was suspended by then-Mayor Mike Yenni after he was unable to provide proof of training for which he was receiving extra pay. The board later reduced the suspension but ordered Hellmers to pay back $2,900.
In 2013, he and the city were sued by a woman who said he had refused to hire her as a firefighter because of her gender. That suit was later settled and the woman was hired.
Kenner's Fire Department is rated a 2 on the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana rankings, the second-highest ranking available. The ranking is used to calculate home insurance rates.