First Posted: 7/4/2009
HILLSVILLE, Va. Nine days after the Hillsville Fire Department voted to reinstate him, Carroll County suspended Roger Hawthorne from the operation of county emergency services equipment.
Hawthorne was suspended from the fire department last year pending the results of a Virginia State Police investigation into missing money at the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.
Originally charged with felony embezzlement last October after the use of chamber funds came into question, Hawthorne pleaded guilty to an amended count of petit larceny two months later. A sentence of 12 months in jail was suspended after he repaid $20,000 to the chamber and served 40 hours of community service.
Hillsville Fire Department Chief Mike Musser said a majority of the department voted to reinstate Hawthorne during a June 16 meeting. The vote was subject to final approval by the Carroll County Emergency Services Boards discretion, however.
During its June 25 meeting, the Carroll Emergency Services Board unanimously approved a motion to support and ratify the actions of Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe and Assistant Administrator Nikki Shank in suspending Hawthorne since May 1.
I took an action to suspend Roger Hawthorne from operation of county emergency services equipment or being on the premises of county emergency services property and that was after considerable amount of thought, Larrowe said. It was distressful to me that this ended up taking place as far as the charges (last year). The chief did exactly what the honorable chief would have done he suspended Roger at the time. He also ended up doing that in a professional and quick manner.
Larrowe said the Carroll Emergency Services Board has discussed issues of this nature and is working on a list of disqualifiers for emergency service volunteers. Hopefully the list of disqualifiers will be finished in the near future, Larrowe said.
However, this one fell on me as the administrator. The charge of the ultimate weight of this is on my shoulders as to the protection of the health, welfare and safety of Carroll County citizens, Larrowe said. I felt that it was questionable that Mr. Hawthorne would have been allowed to go back to the Hillsville Fire Department and operate without continued due process of involving the county administrator as well as the emergency services board.
Larrowe said he felt Musser did what he needed to do as chief by listening to the majority vote of the department.
I have no questions about his acts or his reasoning or anything of that sort. He is a fine upstanding person and I would fight for Mike and for what he stands for in any direction. However, on this particular situation I am looking at it from more of a holistic standpoint of Carroll County in general, Larrowe said. The Board of Supervisors entrust me with that authority and ability to make that happen, and I did that.
Larrowe said Hawthorne was served a letter notifying him of the suspension the day of the EMS meeting. Larrowe said the letter includes an appeals process, which Hawthorne exercised at the meeting, speaking to the board in closed session. After that, Larrowe said the emergency services board unanimously passed a motion to ratify Hawthornes suspension.
We have to remember that serving on an emergency service is not a right, but a privilege and that moral turpitude is a huge element of that, Larrowe said. Whenever we view fire and rescue, we view people who have honorable intentions and histories. In this particular case there could have been ambiguous views of that.
Musser said although the fire department voted to allow Hawthorne to return, he had not actually been reinstated or allowed to run any calls.
We only voted because he had been released from all his court sanctions at that point, Musser said. We respect the decision of local government and the emergency services board. We will support the board and hopefully there will be a peaceful resolution.