Tulsa Fire Department Chief Ray Driskell emailed every city fire station Friday accepting “full responsibility” for the vote of no confidence levied against him last month by firefighters.
Driskell also said in the email that he felt as though he had “failed” the department and planned to meet with each shift at each fire house throughout the city to hear how he could serve them better.
The letter was sent days after Mayor G.T. Bynum had concluded a series of interviews with firefighters about Driskell and the department, and two days after Bynum and Driskell had an hour-long discussion at City Hall, records show.
In the last month, Bynum has had nearly 10 hours of interviews with various members of the Tulsa Fire Department, including Driskell, according to Bynum’s appointment calendar. The calendar was provided to The Frontier following an open records request.
The meetings came in the wake of Bynum’s June 29th statement about Driskell and the controversy that surrounded the TFD chief following the release of an audio recording of an expletive-laden conversation he’d had with a firefighter.
Earlier in June, the firefighter, Capt. Nicholas Gillespie, released a statement calling on Bynum to suspend Driskell and “begin an investigation to uncover the disgraceful manner in which Chief treats our firefighters.”
Gillespie also alleged in his statement that Driskell violated state law and Fire Department policy by directing his staff to use city funds to purchase a handgun for Driskell.
After an investigation by the city’s Human Resources Department, Bynum released a statement saying he had addressed the investigation’s findings with Driskell and “resolved this matter in accordance with City of Tulsa work rules relative to employee discipline.”
Bynum told The Frontier on Monday that he had sought input from firefighters following their July 11 vote of no confidence in Driskell. About 400 firefighters submitted votes, and nearly 80 percent said they had no confidence in Driskell’s ability to lead the department.
“Initially, I just said that if anyone wanted to come forward and talk, to come on forward, but I got next to no response to that offer,” Bynum said. “And I decided that was not the most scientific way to go about it, so I just ended up setting up a series of meetings with folks throughout the department to get a better handle on what the workplace environment is like. … Where can we do better throughout the department?”
Bynum said Deputy Mayor Michael Junk and Chief of Staff Jack Blair were present at the meetings, which he said went “very well.”
“We’ve got a very good handle on what it’s like working inside the Tulsa Fire Department now,” Bynum said.
Following the July 11 vote of no confidence, members of IAFF Local 176 — the local firefighters union — told NewsOn6 they believed Driskell demoted firefighters without following procedure and were disappointed that Bynum’s investigation did not end with Driskell’s firing.
“We are up to over 20 active grievances and arbitrations and most of the time, that should be one or two, 10 at the most,” Jim Nance, Local 176 president, told NewsOn6 reporter Lori Fullbright.
Bynum said his meeting last Wednesday with Driskell was to provide the chief with “a clear course of action moving forward to improve morale.”
“And he’s agreed to carry this out,” Bynum said.
In the email Driskell sent to fire stations last week, he said that over the next several months he will meet with “each station, on each shift including other staff positions” to hear concerns and suggestions.
Driskell said he will be assisted by Ellen Ralph, an “Organizational Development Consultant.” Ralph’s role, according to Driskell, is to “coach” him on hearing and addressing concerns by his employees.
“This process will take approx. 6 months,” Driskell wrote. “I see this as an invaluable opportunity to gain knowledge about recent events in the fire department for which I am responsible.”
Ralph is the founder and principal of Meridian Resources. According to the business’ website, Meridian helps companies develop “skilled and motivated leaders and high-engagement workforces.”
City spokeswoman Michelle Brooks said the scope of Ralph’s work has yet to be determined, so it is not yet known how much she will be paid.
Driskell did not return The Frontier’s call for comment on Monday.