As outside business ties are questioned, Fayette chief resigns
UPDATED for print Wednesday, March 13 — Fayette County Fire and Emergency Services Division Director Allen McCullough’s three decades with the county will come to an end in July, but his parting is under a cloud related to an alleged conflict of interest.
McCullough’s March 8 announcement to retire followed a Jan. 22 letter from County Administrator Steve Rapson informing McCullough that he must discontinue any family-related business in which county employees were trained. McCullough on Tuesday said his departure is tied to other opportunities that he has been exploring for some time.
Rapson in the letter to McCullough said, “The fact that previous administrations approved of this type of activity is irrelevant.” Rapson said it is the county’s responsibility to avoid situations that create even a perceived conflict of interest, prohibit family-related business activities that create a direct conflict of interest and prevent officers teaching in situations for family members that may create bias or preferential treatment.
On a potentially affiliated issue, in the weeks prior to McCullough’s announcement to retire, Rapson said his office had been contacted by more than a dozen county employees expressing concerns about the fire department. Rapson said he is still looking at the issues to determine if those concerns necessitate moving forward with closer scrutiny.
As for a possible replacement to fill McCullough’s position, Rapson said that issue would be discussed during executive session at Thursday’s county commission meeting.
McCullough and his family members in October incorporated Hippocrates Emergency Medical Associates (HEMA), a company providing a variety of training courses for emergency medical responders. McCullough had previously served on staff for a decade with Emergency Response Training and Support Services, Inc. (ERTSS) where similar courses were offered.
Rapson in a Jan. 22 letter to McCullough instructed him to discontinue any family-related business activity associated with Fayette County personnel, to refund any Fayette County employees who have paid fees for EMT or paramedic instruction offered by any company where McCullough or a relative has a financial interest or relationship and to discontinue any Fayette County personnel teaching under any such family-affiliated relationship. Rapson on Monday said the issue involved two Fayette County employees who signed up for courses at HEMA.
McCullough in a Jan. 17 letter to Rapson said HEMA was incorporated by himself and members of his family in October 2012 when ERTSS owner Jeff Partridge decided to discontinue EMS classes. McCullough said the HEMA paramedic program that began at the end of the year included two Fayette County employees. McCullough said he had not expected that to happen, adding that he expressed concern that their tuition would be paid to a company with which he was directly affiliated.
“After I realized that two of the Fayette County staff were planning to attend the paramedic program (at HEMA) I expressed my concern to (family members) and our business attorney, Jason Thompson. I had already decided to remove myself as a participant in the business then instructed (Thompson) to begin that process prior to any meeting with Mr. Rapson,” McCullough said, adding that the issue has been resolved and would not reoccur in the future.
McCullough added that there have been other courses provided by him to Fayette County employees during the past two years at no cost.
McCullough on Tuesday said he is no longer directly affiliated with HEMA due to the potential for both teaching and other opportunities that would occupy his time.
McCullough in the lengthy Jan. 17 letter noted his meeting with Rapson and his various teaching capacities for both EMT and paramedic positions over the past three decades.
“My previous supervisor (former Fayette County County Administrator) Jack Krakeel was always made aware of my instruction at the various schools and I was given permission to do so,” McCullough said. “I have always attempted to avoid any conflict of interest or the perception of such.”
Contacted Tuesday, McCullough confirmed that he had received approval from Krakeel to serve as an instructor at ERTSS, adding that his work as an instructor occurred in the evening hours and on weekends and did not interfere with his duties in Fayette County.
McCullough also said he did not inform the county of the incorporation of HEMA in October due to the county administrator’s position being in transition with Krakeel leaving and Rapson not beginning his job until January. McCullough said he did inform Rapson of HEMA’s existence in January.
McCullough prior to the incorporation of HEMA in October worked as a paid employee, along with his wife and children, with the American Heart Association training center ERTSS. Fayette County ceased paying for EMT training in 2007, though the county from 2003-2006 did pay the cost of EMT training. And during that time approximately $79,700 was paid to ERTSS for training services. It was also during those years that ERTSS was the only local EMT training company. Aside from area college-based programs, the nearest EMT training companies were located in north and west metro Atlanta, said Fayette Fire and Emergency Services Administrative Commander Steve Folden.
Beginning in 2007 the county no longer paid for EMT training, requiring instead that firefighters bear that expense prior to being hired, Rapson said. And it was during those years that McCullough and his family members were on staff at ERTSS, but they had no ownership in the company. McCullough also noted that at no time did he receive any compensation from ERTSS when Fayette County employees attended the school.
McCullough on March 8 released a letter announcing his retirement after more than 30 years of service in Fayette County. McCullough on Tuesday said he had been looking for some time to explore other opportunities related to his areas of expertise.
Rapson said McCullough contacted him, saying that after much thought, prayer and discussion with his family he had decided to announce his retirement as of July 1. McCullough cited the pursuit of other opportunities as the reason for the retirement.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity to serve the Fayette Community for the last 31 years in a leadership role for Fire and Emergency Services as well as Public Safety,” McCullough said
“I am presently exploring several different opportunities which have been presented to me,” said McCullough. “My goal is to continue to serve others, particularly in the area of emergency medicine, education and healthcare and will announce my decision in the coming month.”
Rapson said Fayette County appreciates McCullough’s service over the years.
“We wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” said Rapson.
McCullough began in his service in 1983 as the Director of Emergency Medical Services and was eventually appointed as Fire Chief and Director of Public Safety in 2006.