Former Franklin Fire Chief Ronald "Rocky" Wayne Garzarek accepted a plea deal last week and was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days of supervised probation for leaving the city and working remotely at a Florida beach in 2020 without the authorization of his supervisors.
As previously reported, Garzarek resigned in June 2020 and was later indicted on a charge of official misconduct following a 2021 investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office after it was discovered that he was working remotely in Florida during the worst public health crisis in the nation’s history.
That charge was reduced from the felony official misconduct to the misdemeanor charge of unauthorized use of a vehicle as part of the plea deal which will also see Garzarek pay $1,574.50 in restitution to the City of Franklin.
This is a judicial diversion plea which means that Garzarek could be eligible to have his criminal record wiped of the charge following a successful probationary period.
Garzarek entered a no contendere plea, also known as a nolo contendere or no contest plea, which means that he accepted the plea deal and punishment but did not admit guilt.
Garzarek resigned by way of a short, handwritten note and later he wrote a letter to Franklin City Administrator Eric Stuckey on June 10, 2020, where he apologized for controversy and issued an explanation for his actions.
Garzarek said that he was taking care of elderly parents, who live in an unspecified location. Though, he maintained that he was able to actively continue to his role as fire chief as he worked remotely, arguing that if a major emergency had taken place in the city, he would have been able to return to Franklin in eight hours or less.
“During the time in question, I was actively engaged in city business as you are very aware of after reviewing my calendar and with our last two discussions. I communicated with you and the city leadership team almost daily, my administrative staff at least three times a week, and my senior staff members daily. At no time, did I neglect my duties as a leader of my team,” Garzarek wrote.
“While I communicated with you early on that I needed to provide for the needs and care for my elderly parents, I failed to keep you apprised of my whereabouts with frequent updates for why I needed to remain where I was working remotely. I made some mistakes in judgment in believing that you were OK with me remaining close to my parents and choosing to work remotely from various locations.”
The Comptroller’s Office investigation determined that Garzarek traveled 3,350 miles in his city-owned Chevrolet Tahoe. They added that Garzarek did not use the city fuel card for any purchases during the 3,350 mile trip.
“All government entities in Tennessee must provide oversight when they authorize staff to take home vehicles,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower said in a news release. “This would include regular monitoring of mileage and having clear policies about the acceptable use of city-owned assets.”
Stuckey promoted FFD Assistant Fire Chief Glenn Johnson to serve as Interim Fire Chief and Johnson was later permanently promoted to lead the department.