gvfdNicole Guerrero has quietly endured public criticism since she filed a harassment claim against the Golden Valley Fire District (GVFD) last September and was subsequently fired as its Administrative Manager after a variety of financial failures were exposed in the District Office. But she has now detailed various explanations and defenses in a 19-page letter that was submitted five days before her employment was formally terminated by Assistant Fire Chief Jack Yeager on January 14.Guerrero does not deny that she made accounting and finance mistakes during her tenure. She, however, asserts that her superiors were aware that she lacked proper training, that she was overwhelmed by her workload and that she is unfairly blamed for some mistakes made by others.

guerreroGuerrero’s harassment claim seeking $75,000 compensation was essentially rejected for lack of response from the GVFD and its representatives. Her lengthy letter makes it clear that she wants to be reinstated.

“I truly care about this organization. I’ve never wanted anything but the best for the District and tried to serve its well being as best I could under very challenging circumstances,” the letter said. “Let me come back to work and do the job I love.”

   Guerrero claims that Stacy Gabriel, the labor attorney hired to investigate her harassment claim targeting Fire Chief Thomas O’Donohue and Board member Rhonda Brooks, rendered conclusions in a biased report that was “incomplete, insufficient and flat out wrong.” She claims the Fire Chief tolerated late payment problems for which she was subsequently vilified.
   “Chief O’Donohue claims he was ‘shocked to learn’ of the water bill constantly being paid late and that my files were filled with delinquency, past due and disconnect notices, but as previously noted, he reviewed and initialed those documents all throughout my tenure, aware all along that they were late,” Guerrero stated. “Due to the length of time processing payment takes and the constant interruptions present in the office, some of the payments exceeded the due dates and Chief O’Donohue told me not to worry, as he understood that sometimes circumstances couldn’t be avoided.”
   GVFD Board Chairman Paul Gorham said the District cannot publicly address Guerrero’s letter because her termination appeal is ongoing. O’Donohue said he would like to be able to respond to matters raised by Guerrero, but that he is prohibited from doing so given restrictions associated with unresolved personnel matters.“It’s frustrating to be handcuffed by the process,” O’Donohue said.

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Guerrero has alleged that Chief O’Donohue altered a pay step policy without Board approval and that numerous firefighters are owed significant back pay. She also said O’Donohue willfully exceeded his $5,000 expenditure limit by directing her to pay an IRS fine of roughly $9,800.

   “I told him I couldn’t pay it citing the amount was over his level of authorization, but he ordered me to pay it anyway, and said he’d just notify the Chairman,” Guerrero’s letter stated.“I don’t recall,” former Board Chairman Hardy said when asked if he was informed of the expenditure that exceeded the Chief’s limit. Upon reflection, Hardy remembered a communication of some sort.“I’m certain he did tell me, though I don’t know that I had the authority to approve it,” Hardy said. “I’m almost certain it has to be approved by the Board.”

   Guerrero claims that Administrative Assistant Karen Christensen and contract accountant Freida Huff have continued to make payroll and accounting mistakes that were part of the reason for her dismissal. And Guerrero asserts that she is wrongly blamed for errors that occurred after her District finance involvement ended last summer, including a mishmash of bills and notices found in a drawer in her office.
   “There were significant payroll and accounting errors made after July 31, 2014 that have been made late or in error since Ms. Huff and Ms. Christensen took over accounting duties, but have been blamed on me,” Guerrero’s letter stated.
   Guerrero next takes her fight for reinstatement to the Office of Administrative Hearings. The OAH will conduct a hearing before issuing a recommendation to the GVFD governing Board to uphold or overturn Guerrerro’s dismissal.
   The District is responsible for the cost of the OAH proceeding. Assistant Fire Chief Jack Yeager said the tab could run $20,000-$25,000 based on his experience, though he said it could also be much less than that.
   Guerrero said she and her lawyer in late December filed a whistle blowing retaliation complaint against the District with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She said they are amending the EEOC complaint to reflect that she was terminated after it was submitted.
   Yeager said the District has no notice or knowledge of any EEOC action by Guerrero. She said she is also contemplating civil litigation.

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