Bellevue Police Chief John Stacey will no longer represent the city's Fire Department at national training seminars and professional conferences, Fire Chief Perry Guido said Tuesday.
Guido said he made the decision earlier this year because Bellevue has transitioned from an all-volunteer force to a part-time paid department.
Stacey had joined the International Association of Fire Chiefs organization during the time he served as the volunteer fire chief, from 1984 until 1998. He became a Bellevue police officer in 1978 and was named police chief in 2005.
Guido said Stacey has been active with IAFC for years and is on the board of the National Fire Protection Association's technical committee on fire hose. Stacey continues to work a volunteer fire shift twice a week, Guido said.
“Out of respect for his longstanding involvement with the volunteer department and in the same spirit of involving past volunteers into the transitional phase we are currently undergoing, I granted his requests and allowed him to represent the department in that capacity as well as attend the IAFC conferences,” Guido said.
But moving forward, Guido said, it is more appropriate for Bellevue's full-time battalion chiefs to attend the conferences and training sessions.
The World-Herald reported Tuesday that Stacey and Gretna's fired city administrator, Colleen Lawry, took trips that overlapped in four cities around the country between August and January, each racking up thousands of dollars in bills charged to taxpayers.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said Monday that any overlap involving out-of-state travel by Stacey and Lawry using public funds deserved further investigation by law enforcement officials, who are already investigating Lawry. She was charged last week with felony theft of between $500 and $1,500 for allegedly taking money from a Gretna senior citizens fund.
Since early last year, Stacey has booked at least nine out-of-town trips, including three representing the Fire Department, and has charged more than $4,300 to Bellevue, city records show.
Two of the fire-related trips overlapped with Lawry's travel to research outlets malls for the City of Gretna.
In August, Stacey attended an International Association of Fire Chiefs meeting in Atlanta. He didn't pay for a hotel room, but Bellevue funded $830 worth of expenses.
Lawry traveled to Atlanta over many of the same days for economic development research on outlet malls, charging the City of Gretna for lodging at a Hilton Garden Inn.
In November, Stacey attended an IAFC training session in Fairfax, Va. He didn't seek compensation for any expenses for that trip. Lawry traveled to the area over the same three-day period to visit outlet malls.
The other Fire Department-related trip didn't correspond with any taxpayer-funded travel to the same area by Lawry. That was July 18-20, when he attended the National Fire Protection Association conference in Baltimore, which cost Bellevue $837.
Since March 2011, Stacey has been out of town on official travel for the Police and Fire Departments for the equivalent of at least six workweeks.
The extensive travel might be one reason why the chief has typically found it difficult to use his vacation benefit.
Stacey receives about six weeks of paid vacation each year, plus two additional weeks of “use or lose” vacation time, a perk for managers in lieu of overtime pay.
Under a longstanding city policy, which The World-Herald examined in September 2010, employees could bank all their unused vacation and cash it out later. Most waited until retiring to cash out.
By last December, Stacey had accumulated 92.5 weeks of unused vacation time, worth about $183,000.
He said in 2010 there was no way he could take all his vacation time, given his job responsibilities. That year, he took his “use or lose” leave plus 36 hours of regular vacation. In the previous three years, he used only 22 hours of regular vacation.
“There are just not many times that I can get out of there,” Stacey said at the time. “The longer you're gone, stuff just piles up. I don't have any assistant chiefs or even a deputy chief.”
City Administrator Dan Berlowitz, hired in the spring of 2011, has been cracking down on the unused time, telling department heads last fall that the stockpiling practice “has created a large unfunded liability for the city.”
Berlowitz declined to comment Tuesday on the status or scope of an unrelated investigation involving Stacey.
Stacey was placed on administrative leave last week, according to a source, after he allegedly made an inappropriate comment to someone at the Bellevue Fire Department.
Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders declined to comment Tuesday about Stacey.
“Because this involves human resources and a personnel issue, there is nothing for me to comment on,” she told reporters.
Bellevue City Councilman Don Preister said he wants Berlowitz to conduct a thorough investigation that is “fair and complete for everybody.”
“It's unfortunate, but it's something we have to deal with and do the best we can for the citizens,” Preister said. “Whether you are elected or a public official, everything you do is open to scrutiny and questioning, but it's too early for me to make any judgment at this point.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of out-of-town trips Stacey took and the cost of the trips to Bellevue.
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