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Firefighters Accuse Mayor of Insults, Bullying

"He said all the guys at the firehouse were sons of bitches and assholes."

Months, and maybe longer, of alleged derogatory comments toward members of the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Department from the mouth of Dayton Mayor Ken Rankle were the topic of a lengthy meeting of he cities' joint fire board.

Fire Chief Michael Auteri read to the board a pair of letters submitted by firefighters detailing some of the allegations. Mark Tumler, a volunteer firefighter, wrote that Rankle used derogatory comments after the cities' Memorial Day Parade when Tumler was tasked with helping to clean the streets. Rankle, according to Tumler, wanted to know why a pick-up truck was being used instead of a fire truck. "I told him that Capt. (Jim) Richmond sent me down in the pick-up truck because he thought the pick-up truck and hoses would work better," Tumler wrote. "Mayor Rankle stated that 'he's a cocksucker' and 'that's them playing games again'."

"Mayor Rankle proceeded to inform me that when I needed help from the Housing Board a while ago, he was the one who made sure that me and my family got what we needed," Tumler continued. "This came out of nowhere and he sounded like he was holding my residence over my head. I was very uncomfortable because I felt that he was trying to manipulate me. He didn't say anything for a while after that."

Rankle is on vacation and does not return until Monday. A phone call to his mobile late Thursday evening has not been returned. (This story will be updated if and when Rankle responds.) The mayor faces reelection this year against City Councilman and Fire Board Chairman Virgil Boruske. The cities' merged fire department is governed by an independent board with six members made up of two council members and a citizen from each city.

Chief Auteri said that members of his department were told by the mayor that if they support Auteri, he would try to get them fired or to mess with their pensions. "It's affecting morale and started shortly after I took over," Auteri said. "I explained at the time, to the administration there and the mayor, our salaries aren't up there with Newport, Ft. Thomas, Covington, so we need to be creative in finding ways to keep our firefighters."

The chief said the mayor calls them lazy firemen and says he has trouble paying them while they sleep. "I say, just put it in writing. It's been going on for two years," Auteri said.

Firefighter Chuck Enzweiler spoke to the board. "In my thirty-three years of serving residents of Bellevue-Dayton, I have never been so publicly disrespected as I have been by the mayor of Dayton," he said. "I don't care about what he thinks about me, what he says about me, as long as he says it about a personal resident of Dayton. What I do care about is what he says about the department."

Enzweiller accused Rankle of keeping a black list. "If you're not supporters, supporters are not supposed to talk to them," he said. "I know (Dayton Councilman) Bill Burns is on the list. "Why's it gotta be personal? Why does my name have to come up? Half of what comes out the man's mouth is false. It's not truth. He could say it's sunshine right now and I'd have to look out."

"The department is strong. I'm tired of the personal attacks, mentioning my name. I don't do it to him. I disagree with most of the stuff he does and says but I don't personally attack him. I'm not an attorney but if this don't stop, I may seek the advice of one."

The board's attorney said some of the alleged comments by the mayor could be actionable as libel.

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"I think this picture is a lot bigger than this one incident," said board member Jean Cole, of Dayton, who said she is a supporter of the mayor. "I don't condone either one. It's gamey, small-town BS. We won't solve it tonight but if we don't all change our attitude this town is never going to reach what we're going to be. I apologize from Dayton. I am a supporter of Mayor Rankle. I think he's done a great job; however, I do not want to condone any kind of embarrassment or disrespect."
Cole said that she would discuss the matter with Rankle.
Board member and Bellevue City Councilman Matt Olliges said that the fire board has seen improvements in its effectiveness recently and that it would get through this bout of negativity. "Unfortunately we have that in a position of authority, but what I will urge you to do is hold on," he said. "Every two to four years, all these politicians have the chance of not being back in these roles, so hold on and keep doing what you're doing."
"We can only hope and pray that it will get better."
"We worked through issues so we didn't have this," said board member and Bellevue City Councilman Steve Guidugli. "Seems to me, we put rules in place. Everybody knows the chain of command. That's the way it should have been handled. We're spending way too much time rather than going after things we should be doing. This is nuts."
Guidugli said that if he had said the alleged comments to one of his employees at work, he would have been fired.
The firefighters union met with a representative from the state organization and a member of the fire board to address the situation. The union announced plans to endorse candidates for the first time before this year's November elections.
Former Bellevue Mayor Tom Wiethorn also weighed in. "As a former community leader, it's a little disheartening to hear there are personnel issues festering in this department. It saddens me," he said. "It makes me extremely sad to sit here and know these ladies and gentlemen personally and the number of years they have faithfully served us and to have this incident happen. I applaud you and the personnel board for trying to solve that issue."
"He's an outlier," Olliges said of Rankle. "He is not in our organization. I want to make that very clear. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot we can do about him. We've got a great team that supports one another. We have no say in what he does, what he says. We just have to hold our heads high and know it doesn't matter what he says. He has nothing he can do to you other than his words."
"There's been a lot of things said that are damaging about the mayor, too," Cole said.
Dayton City Administrator Michael Giffen said that he has been working with Chief Auteri to remedy years of communication breakdowns between the department and the city. "It seems like all of these issues, and I don't condone anything (Rankle) did or did not say, the majority of these issues have stemmed from a lack of communication from the very beginning," Giffen said. "I feel like we're headed in a better direction as far as the city is concerned. Let's give (Rankle) a chance for rebuttal and continue these lines of communication."
"It's a different beast versus public works department or code enforcement department. It's two cities and it creates a hurdle."
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Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News