Ghosts of Telemachus: Bay fire chief urged inspector to ‘walk away’ from code violations

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Bay fire chief urged inspector to ‘walk away’ from code violations
By J.R. Welsh
Jun 10, 2011, 17:39

Last October, the Bay St. Louis fire chief allegedly ordered a fire marshal who ultimately lost his job to “just walk away” from situations where he discovered fire code violations at local businesses, rather than follow procedure and issue citations to business owners.

In a Civil Service hearing Thursday, it was revealed that Fire Chief Pam San Fillippo had chastised former Fire Marshal Eddie Bourgeois for issuing citations to restaurant owners, inferring that his actions were making things politically uncomfortable for Mayor Les Fillingame.

“Just walk away from it,” San Fillippo told the 42-year-old fire marshal, who spent more than 22 years as a firefighter and reserve deputy sheriff before being fired by Fillingame in early March.

In such cases, she said, Bourgeois should simply bring the information to her instead of acting on it.

“Tell them you’ll get back to them … the mayor cannot have businesses complaining,” she said.

Unbeknownst to San Fillippo at the time, the discussion was recorded on Bourgeois’ cell phone as he was being reprimanded for taking action against a local Chinese restaurant where he found a dirty stove hood that posed a fire hazard. Also during the conversation, San Fillippo said: “There’s other businesses still complaining that you’re trying to go after them, trying to harass them … whatever.”

San Fillippo was interim fire chief at the time, having replaced former Fire Chief Fred Butts, who had quietly resigned in disgust over interference from city hall in Fire Department matters. San Fillippo, a close friend of Mayor Fillingame and his family, was later elevated to full-time fire chief.

Conflict Allegations Rejected
Attorney Alex Brady and Bourgeois filed a Civil Service appeal after Bourgeois was fired because he asked a city policeman to run the tag of a pickup truck that had been following him. It was later learned the truck belonged to a man who was dating Bourgeois’ former girlfriend.

The police officer, Chuck Baughman, ran the tag and passed the name of the owner along to Bourgeois.

Baughman was later reprimanded for his actions, but was not fired or suspended, and his pay was not docked. At Thursday’s hearing, Brady contended that Bourgeois was not fired because of the tag incident, but rather because he irritated City Hall by doing his job too well.

The hearing, which was temporarily recessed after more than three hours of testimony, appeared to be as much a trial on the legitimacy of City Hall policies as of Bourgeois’ actions. It began with Brady asking that the Civil Service Commission’s three members – all of them City Hall appointees – remove themselves from the case because of conflicts of interest.

Brady pointed out that Commission Chairwoman Rhonda Oliver and Commissioners David Mayley and Amy Richardson all have close relatives who work for Fillingame. Mayley’s son is a sergeant on the police department, and Richardson’s son is also a city employee.

Oliver’s husband, Charles Oliver, was recently promoted to run the city code inspection department after Fillingame fired the former manager in what he said was a cost-cutting move.

“It would be difficult, if not impossible, for my client to receive a fair hearing before this commission,” Brady said. Later he added, “Everyone here is appointed by the mayor … we’re talking about husbands and sons – an extremely close family member.”

In response, City Attorney Donald Rafferty, who defended Fillingame’s firing of Bourgeois, lashed out at Brady’s request. “When you’ve got nothing to argue, you come attack the people who make the decision,” he said. “This is reaching for the stars.”

Despite their close ties to Fillingame and City Hall, all three commissioners denied the recusal request.

Bourgeois on the Stand
Rafferty also bore down on Bourgeois when the former fire official testified on his own behalf. He accused Bourgeois of taking revenge in the Chinese restaurant case because the owner hired a different stove-cleaning company than one Bourgeois had recommended.

“You wanted a particular person to get that job,” he said, hinting that Bourgeois had used his position to further corruption.

Bourgeois denied the allegation, saying he had identified for the owner a list of companies that do such work. And he said San Fillippo used the car-tag incident for revenge. “She waited for a reason to get rid of me, and she finally found it,” he said.

Bourgeois also testified that he had volunteered to take a polygraph examination to clear his name, but the administration refused the offer.

“You’re just always right, aren’t you, Mr. Bourgeois?” Rafferty snapped back.

What Comes Next
The Civil Service hearing began at 6 p.m. and came to an inconclusive end at 9:15 p.m. Hearing Officer Malcom Jones noted the late hour, and said both he and Rafferty had other court matters the next morning.

Jones decided to recess the hearing until a later date and time, to be arranged between the parties. He said the next hearing will be duly announced and advertised.

The night ended with the commission having heard testimony from Bourgeois, Officer Baughman, and David Farris, a local businessman who had witnessed the truck following Bourgeois before the fire marshal asked Baughman to run the tag.

San Fillippo has not yet been called to testify, nor has Fillingame, who sat through the hearing. Before adjourning, Brady said he plans to call Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo as his next witness.

5 thoughts on “Ghosts of Telemachus: Bay fire chief urged inspector to ‘walk away’ from code violations”

  1. As said many times the city has been a culture of corruption since Mayor filingame took oath. It is also fair to say the fire chief in question was not as qualified as Bourgois and firing was the only alternative to hire his good friend and partying buddy . This culture will continue until Mr. Filingame is noticed that he can longer serve in any position of Mississippi Government or incarcerated. There is so much smoke that the Law will not have to fan the coals very hard to find the fire. No pun intended.

  2. This situation is a result of the council turning a blind eye and protecting Les’s ideas. Daffodils farms, dog parks, trolleys, garbage management systems, the list goes on. Who is to blame? I think the people over the budget, Lonny, Joey, and Mike made it obvious.

    Filingame and company are the guilty! The employees should seek legal advice as the Les Family and Cartel will sacrifice them for vindication! That is proven time and again. Gus McKay has been punked several times along with others! There are many more. Candy having to supervise a underling who is paid as much as her because daddy said! If I were a investigation officer I would take time to speak with her.

    If I were a investigation official I would pay attention to the public who has been taken advantage of. We are tired of being last at everything because of people that are just like the Filingame Regime. Take and give back nothing!

  3. There definitely is a pattern here. Little Les has Napoleon short man syndrome and wants to control everything. Off with his head !!!!
    Is there any department that does not listen to him??? Don’t think so. The corruption is from Mayor on down. It is amazing how a man that ran a Video Store now has more control over city department heads. Maybe he watched too many Mob Movies while working.

    1. The hearing did continue. Mr Bourgeois’ termination was upheld.

      I hope to have a follow up post but I must clear my plate first.

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