Assistant Fire Chief Hal Wolverton was returned to duty by the Key Peninsula Board of Fire Commissioners 14 weeks after it placed him on paid administrative leave during a third-party investigation into allegations of discriminatory behavior against a department employee.
The board reported at its biweekly meeting March 22 that the investigation, conducted by an outside attorney hired by the district, found no grounds to discipline Wolverton and voted to return him to duty immediately, though under something of a cloud.
“The report concluded that none of the allegations made could be sustained to have violated the law or department policy,” said commission Chair Stan Moffett at the meeting.
Commissioner Sean Jensen seconded a board motion to return Wolverton to duty but said, “I do have reservations about the culture and ramifications of this whole situation, and I really hope this department can come together to rally around each other after all this has taken place.”
Wolverton was put on paid administrative leave Dec. 14 after the board received complaints about possible misconduct. The board appointed him interim fire chief by unanimous vote at its meeting Nov. 23 to fill the gap left by Fire Chief Dustin Morrow, who left the district Dec. 1 to take over the top job at Central Pierce Fire & Rescue in Tacoma.
Wolverton, a 29-year KPFD veteran, has been assistant chief for five years and served as interim fire chief once before during the time between the retirement of Fire Chief Guy Allen in 2018 and hiring Morrow in April 2019.
Most of the accusations leveled against Wolverton were made years earlier, but the previous fire chiefs apparently did not think they warranted further action, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to speak about it publicly. It’s also unclear why an investigation was launched soon after Morrow’s departure.
At the meeting, Commissioner Keith Davies said, “With what the allegations were and what the investigation (put) the department through … I think it is a time to bring somebody in to refresh all of the harassment trainings, also review district policy on harassment and reporting. This is a good opportunity for us (to) get 100% of our organization up to speed and we set a new baseline.”
After the meeting, Public Information Officer Anne Nesbit told KP News, “Chief Wolverton was cleared of any wrongdoing, the investigation found that he did nothing wrong, that’s why he could return to duty immediately.”
Division Chief Jason Learned was appointed interim fire chief when Wolverton was put on leave, and will remain in that post until a new chief is hired, Nesbit said.
The board meanwhile is continuing its search for a new fire chief to replace Morrow. Six candidates were chosen by press time with the goal of hiring one of them by June.
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