Firefighter Tom Williamson, whose complaints about Covington-area Fire Chief Steve Krentel triggered a probe of the chief, is now under investigation himself, and he's claiming it's in retaliation for his outspoken criticism.
Williamson has been put on paid administrative leave by the board that governs St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 12.
Speaking in his lawyer's office Monday morning, Williamson said that after he arrived for his regularly scheduled shift Friday, a superior handed him some paperwork and asked for his signature acknowledging that he had received two notices of investigation from the board and was being put on leave.
That same board voted last month to proceed with a full investigation into a complaint that Williamson filed about Krentel's romantic relationship with an employee, among other allegations. Krentel admits the relationship but says it happened two years ago, before he was the woman's supervisor.
A St. Tammany Parish fire district board voted Thursday to launch a full investigation into complaints against Fire Chief Steve Krentel, also …
Roy Burns Jr., Williamson's lawyer, called the board's latest action "Retaliation 101," saying the timing makes it clear that his client is being punished for speaking out. He said Krentel has not been placed on leave while he is under investigation.
Williamson said he was not told who had initiated the complaints against him but that he is being investigated on allegations of harassment, conflict, disorderly conduct and insubordination.
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Steven Swanson, chairman of the fire district's board, said that two complaints were made, one by a fire district employee and one by a member of the public, and the commission is obligated to investigate.
Williamson is scheduled for an "interrogation" Jan. 17 and will have a hearing Jan. 25.
One of the notices accuses Williamson of disseminating "false, misleading, slanderous and defamatory accusations regarding Chief Krentel" at the board's Dec. 14 meeting and making "spurious and slanderous remarks about Chief Krentel in the news media without first obtaining his permission, while on duty and/or while dressed in Fire District No. 12 attire."
The other says that Williamson willfully disobeyed an order by the Board of Commissioners to direct any inquiries or comments, presumably about Krentel, to the board. Williamson is accused of disobeying that order by asking friends to contact board members, providing addresses and phone numbers.
"People showed up at my house," Swanson said. "I wasn't having it."
Krentel said he has completely recused himself from the matter. "I had absolutely nothing to do with" the allegations against his accuser, he said.
Burns, Williamson's lawyer, said he is contemplating filing suit on behalf of his client under the state's whistleblower statute.
The investigation into Williamson's complaints about Krentel is already underway, Swanson said, adding that there are four investigations within Fire District No. 12, two involving complaints made by Williamson.
Williamson also charged that Chief of Administration Mike Haley may have violated nepotism rules because he was supervising his son, a new employee still on probation, when he was acting as chief during Krentel's leave of absence.
Williamson first lodged his complaints against Krentel on Nov. 1, the day that Krentel returned to the job after the death of his wife, whose badly burned body was found at the site of the couple's home, which had burned down July 14.
He appeared before the fire district's Civil Service Board, which initiated an investigation and adopted a sternly worded "no retaliation" order.
Henry Olinde, an attorney for the Civil Service Board, said that no complaints about retaliation have been made concerning the allegations against Williamson and that the panel can't act until someone brings a request. But should that happen, he said, one of the first questions would be whether the panel has any jurisdiction over members of the Board of Commissioners, who are not civil service employees.
Nanette Krentel's death, by a gunshot wound, has been ruled a homicide by St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston and remains under investigation. Sheriff Randy Smith announced in September that Krentel had been cleared as a suspect in the homicide.
On his first day back at work since his wife's fatal shooting in July, Steve Krentel, a St. Tammany Parish fire chief, was hit with a complain…