Former Richmond Fire Department Chief Jerry Purcell and Mayor Dave Snow have further explained their views about why Snow removed Purcell from his position Dec. 6.
Purcell wrote what he called an “open letter to the citizens of Richmond, Indiana” that he emailed Dec. 18 to the Western Wayne News and posted on his Facebook account. He wrote that Snow told him during a Nov. 28 meeting that Purcell was not a team player because of two incidents: Purcell’s responses to Richmond Common Council members about part-time EMS pay and Nov. 25 Facebook posts expressing Purcell’s disappointment about street closures impacting holiday shopping at downtown businesses.
In his statement, Purcell said he was offered the option of remaining chief for the rest of 2022 then releasing a statement in conjunction with the city reflecting that he voluntarily left the chief’s rank. Purcell said he notified Snow at the beginning of December that he would not agree to that. Snow then removed him as chief, the letter said.
The removal as chief caused discussions that Purcell says included speculation about his health and “other implausible reasons for my unintended exit.” He said it “is a grave error for anyone to insinuate” that he would willingly leave his position five months early. His letter said it has been an “honor and privilege” to be the city’s fire chief.
Purcell, who has worked nearly four decades with RFD, including the past nine as chief, was returned to the rank of battalion chief and will be a line firefighter until his impending May 8 retirement at the mandatory retirement age of 70.
On Dec. 7, Snow told the Western Wayne News that Purcell’s removal as chief was simply part of the timeline leading up to Purcell’s retirement. Snow said that was the right time to make the move.
When reached at the time, Purcell stated that the change was the result of previous conversations, but did not elaborate on the nature of those exchanges other than to say that he had not initiated the change.
When asked Dec. 19 about Purcell’s more recent comments, Snow said:
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve dealt with a myriad of issues in our fire department. Some of these issues required professional mediation between Jerry and his team, some required outside legal counsel into employment matters, and several were handled internally to address the multitude of other concerns pertaining to the leadership culture that had been established in our fire department.
“Throughout all of this, we spoke at length about this transition into his retirement, and I shared my many thoughts about how to provide for him an honorable departure from his position. Jerry decided to deviate from our plan, which resulted in an acceleration of our timeline, and I feel as though this was a move in the right direction for our department.
“I continue to respect Jerry. I am continually grateful for his service to Richmond, and I will always want nothing but the best for him in his future endeavors.”
Purcell said Dec. 19 that he and the mayor previously had disagreements, including about Purcell’s handling of personnel issues, but Purcell said he never perceived a threat to his position. His letter, he said, reflects what he was told in the final meetings.
The issue of part-time pay was broached during an Aug. 23 Richmond Common Council Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the city’s 2023 budget. Purcell had reduced the part-time budget from $300,000 to $150,000 because he said he could not find part-time workers at the $15-per-hour rate when Reid Health offered higher pay.
Part-time EMS workers provide non-emergency patient transfers that can generate $400,000 in annual revenue, Purcell told council. Council members asked about raising the hourly rate; however, they were told the wages must remain aligned with other city part-time positions.
On Nov. 25, Purcell posted on Facebook about large machinery and blockades creating what he called a “shopper’s navigation nightmare” downtown during the Thanksgiving weekend and the impact that had on small business owners who have invested in the downtown. His post said he was embarrassed for the community and “disappointed in the seeming lack of concern by community leaders.”
Purcell’s letter indicates he spoke about the downtown situation during a Nov. 21 department head meeting. Purcell is a Main Street Richmond board member, has been involved in downtown cleanup efforts, and his son and daughter-in-law, John and Sam Purcell, own Spoke Easy bicycle shop and Ply Fiber Arts in the 900 block of East Main Street.