We shouldn’t be surprised that former Casper Fire Chief Kenny King was caught up in an email scandal last month. After all, King has a history of sending emails that, even viewed under the best light, were totally inappropriate for someone of his stature and responsibility.
In October 2015, while the Cole Creek fire that occurred under his department’s watch burned, the chief emailed a subordinate tasked with collecting evidence and asked him to delete the “bad parts” from a video of the fire. When the email surfaced after a Star-Tribune investigation, King called the emails a “bad joke” and soon announced that he would retire — in January 2018.
The city hired an outside investigator to determine whether the video evidence had been doctored and concluded it hadn’t. But apparently the city didn’t take time to investigate whether King had sent more inappropriate emails.
As it turns out, he had.
This fall, envelopes containing flash drives with copies of King’s work emails and an anonymous note were mailed to several firefighters in the department. What they showed was shocking.
The chief sent suggestive emails, both to and about women. In them he made sexual comments about women’s appearances, discussed crushes he had on women in his personal and professional life and sent photos of seductively dressed women to female subordinates. In one particularly disturbing email chain, the chief shared a link to news story about a female rescuer who died on the job. A midlevel fireman wrote “at least it was just a female,” to which King responded, “Copy that.”
Soon after the emails were leaked, King moved up his retirement date, claiming he wanted to spend time watching football with family. Obviously, the timing makes such an explanation questionable at best.
Even with King’s departure, City Manager Carter Napier says the city will investigate the situation further. That’s heartening to know. Because the problem goes deeper than the Chief. King wasn’t the only one participating in the emails, and certainly not the only one in a position of power. In order for the department to move forward, Napier would be wise to put the department under a microscope.
His obligation to determine just how pervasive this culture is within the department is both a legal and a moral one.
It’s Napier’s job to ensure that city employees can work in a safe and healthy environment. That includes a workspace free of inappropriate emails from managers. If there are others who participated in writing and responding to inappropriate emails, it’s Napier’s job to hold violators accountable.
That’s the moral responsibility. Napier must also ensure that this behavior stops to prevent the city from facing legal actions. Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook because city employees don’t understand – or don’t care to use – what is appropriate behavior. Allowing men in power to get away with that kind of behavior puts department employees at risk, and by extension the city.
Furthermore, the fire department needs a new chief. And the last thing Napier wants is to inadvertently select the next leader from any remaining bad apples. Napier must ensure that he knows the character of those he chooses to put into leadership positions, so that any toxic culture won’t continue to put the department at risk and its employees in harm’s way.
We owe it to the brave firefighters who work tirelessly to keep the people of Casper safe to eradicate the shadow of impropriety that has been cast over the department. We owe it to them to ensure that the best candidates are applying for jobs among their ranks – both men and women. And just as importantly, the citizens of Casper deserve a department that’s free of scandals such as these, so that firefighters can concentrate on their most important task – keeping our community safe.