Fire Chief W. John Williams abruptly resigned Monday amid allegations that he had sexually harassed a female city employee.
Ted Nguyen, city communications director, said the resignation was offered during a Monday meeting between Williams and City Manager John Patterson.Williams, a former Salt Lake County firefighter, worked for West Valley City for more than 17 years. He was hired shortly after the city was incorporated.
Assistant Fire Chief John Evans was named acting chief and will assume the leadership responsibilities over a department of 62 people including 40 firefighters, seven administrators, secretaries and other staff.
"West Valley has a policy that strictly prohibits sexual harassment in any form of or by city employees," Nguyen said Tuesday. "We maintain a zero tolerance policy" that is clearly articulated in a handbook given to all employees and is emphasized in annual training meetings to all employees.
The city spokesman said the sexual harassment charges were "brought to light on Monday" and noted Williams resigned the same day.
However, Nguyen said "privacy issues" would not permit him to say whether the female employee who had made the allegations worked in the fire department or another city office.
He also would not comment on the nature of the allegations. City officials confirmed there were multiple instances over the past month that led to Williams' resignation.
The Deseret News was not able to reach Williams, who lives in the Taylorsville area, for comment Tuesday night.
Patterson said Tuesday night that Williams' departure under a cloud of controversy was "a great tragedy" for the city as well as the former chief.
"I always had a great respect for the chief's professional competence," the city manager said. "He was one of the best fire chiefs I've ever seen and was recognized by his peers as such."
He noted that Williams was serving as president of the Western Fire Chiefs Association and had been picked by Gov. Mike Leavitt to help make preparations for the 2002 Winter Games.
"John was a capable man who led this department in many ways," Patterson said. "But he was facing the specter of an investigation that would have been very difficult for both him and the female employee involved.
"He chose to resign rather than go through that," he added.
Patterson said he hopes the offended worker will accept the city's swift action as evidence of its commitment to "zero tolerance" sexual harassment policy and elect not to litigate the matter.
"I think she was impressed with how quickly we acted," the city manager said.
Patterson also indicated the former chief was not offered any kind of severance package.
The city's sexual harassment policy says that "all employees at all levels of employment . . . must avoid offensive or inappropriate sexual and/or sexually harassing behavior."
In addition, the policy assures city workers that when investigations confirm allegations of sexual harassment, appropriate corrective action will immediately follow.