A recently released report found that the former chief of the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District didn’t retaliate against employees, but did contribute to a “negative work environment” at the district.
The 34-page investigative report was delivered to the SEFD Governing Board in late January, weeks after they’d already fired former Chief Joseph DeWolf for allegedly taking an unauthorized raise. It was provided to the NI this week following a public records request.
The report by the Scottsdale-based law firm Green and Baker stated that there wasn’t evidence for two former employees’ claims that DeWolf retaliated against them due to their knowledge of a 2018 sexual harassment allegation against the then-chief. That allegation also led to an investigation, but no significant action was taken against DeWolf.
But the more recent investigation did find support for the claim that the former chief had created a negative workplace environment.
“The evidence shows that various personnel perceived DeWolf as behaving improperly. Some witnesses had no complaints about DeWolf, and some community members offered general support for DeWolf without specifics,” the report states, adding:
“A sufficient number of employees reported misbehavior by DeWolf to support the allegation that he contributed to a negative environment. Because DeWolf was terminated, this issue need not be more fully analyzed at this time.”
The report also named Laura Sink, the department’s former EMS director, as having “contributed to a negative work environment” along with DeWolf. Sink had been placed on administrative leave last year pending the results of the investigation. She resigned on Jan. 25, according to the district.
The stated reason for DeWolf’s firing in early January wasn’t related to the workplace inquiry, but it did hinge on issues turned up during the investigation. Chris Johnson, chair of the fire district’s board, said that the unauthorized payments to the former chief – which dated back to 2018 and totaled more than $30,000 – came to light after the investigation got under way.
Johnson said the improper payments were “more than enough” to justify the firing, but added that “there were a number of things that were going on that we were looking at” when the board made the decision.
The report didn’t indicate how the investigation had turned up the alleged financial improprieties.
Johnson said the board is now taking steps towards finding a new permanent chief for the department. In the meantime, Jon Buonaccorsi is serving as acting chief.