Cowley County will start the interview process soon for a new director of Cowley County Emergency Communications (CCEC).

Fortner

This position was left open when former director Carl Fortner resigned April 20.

Interviews for his replacement will begin Monday, according to County Administrator Lucas Goff.

CCEC and Fortner, who was hired in December 2015, were the subjects of a series of investigative articles earlier this year by Ark City Daily Bytes.

The investigative series was launched after Cowley County’s consolidated 911 dispatch center came under heated scrutiny during a meeting of the City Commission of Arkansas City. After the meeting, Ark City Daily Bytes requested and inspected numerous emails between city and county officials, spanning more than a year and a half, in order to verify claims made that night.

Former director Fortner

While investigating Fortner, Ark City Daily Bytes discovered a prior internal investigation in Florida, which was initiated against Fortner after harassment complaints by his former employees.

Before coming to Kansas, Fortner was employed as a dispatch director by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office in Bay County, Florida.

When Ark City Daily Bytes inquired into his employment, a completed investigation into claims of employee misconduct and workplace harassment by Fortner was found.

That investigation was opened March 25, 2015. During its course, 22 witnesses gave testimony and more than 550 pages of assorted evidence were compiled.

Exit interviews for 13 former employees were included in the investigation — a majority of those list poor work atmosphere or inadequate training as reasons for their departure.

The investigation concluded when a memorandum — dated May 27, 2015, and approved by two employees on May 29, 2015 — was released.

Attempts to contact Fortner for comments were unsuccessful.

Investigation findings

The memo contained the final findings of the internal investigation conducted by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office into Fortner’s conduct.

“Based on the information obtained during the course of this investigation, it has been determined that Mr. Fortner has violated Bay County Sheriff’s Office policy … by creating a hostile environment,” the memorandum states. These policies included code of conduct, workplace harassment and discrimination.

“Though Mr. Fortner denies that (his) text messages, sticky notes, chats and/or emails are of a sexual nature or requests for dates, the employees who have received these messages have felt that they are inappropriate and have made them feel uncomfortable.

“Mr. Fortner also admits that when (one female employee) sent him the email about her concerns of being treated differently, he took that as her claiming he was discriminating against her and so he responded by saying, ‘I’ve explained myself more than I need to, in an effort to get things back on track. If they don’t, then we can all just get the lawyers involved.’”

The memo also took issue with Fortner’s management style.

“Mr. Fortner admits that he has spoken negatively about other employees to new employees in an attempt to keep the new employee out of the ‘drama,’” the memo states. “Mr. Fortner also admits to speaking in a commanding voice — he takes exception to the term ‘yelling’ — at (another female employee) while she is sitting at a position in the radio room.”

Fortner resigned around the same time the memo was released.

“Please accept my resignation from the position of communications manager for the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. It has been a pleasure serving the people of Bay County for the last eight years,” his resignation reads. “I would like to make my last day May 29, 2015.”

Hiring process

It remains unclear what hiring process was used when Fortner was hired by the county, more than six months after his resignation in Florida, or whether a background check was conducted that would have turned up the same open records Ark City Daily Bytes found in Florida.

“In terms of the process that was utilized to hire Carl a few years ago: I do not recall. You will need to contact the (county human resources) department and see what records they can share with you,” said former county administrator Jeremy Willmoth, who is now the Winfield city manager.

However, Willmoth’s replacement, Goff, said the procedure the county will use during this hiring process will be different than with Fortner.

“To the best of my knowledge, the (hiring practices used currently) are not consistent with what was used in the past,” Goff said.

Applicants will have to pass a Kansas Criminal Justice Information Systems (KCJIS) background check; typing, vision and hearing tests; and a drug screening, and also perform well on a simulated emergency call.

Goff also has assembled a group of emergency response officials from Cowley County to assist him in the interview process. They include:

  • Arkansas City Fire Chief Bobby Wolfe;
  • Interim Winfield Police Chief Brett Stone;
  • Brian Stone, Cowley County emergency management coordinator and interim CCEC director;
  • Cowley County Human Resources Director Kristi Imel.

If this group decides a polygraph would be beneficial, there is flexibility to do so, Goff said.

The hiring standards will comply to KCJIS and national CJIS standards, according to Goff.

“I can give you my word, the next person will have to adhere to those standards,” he said.