Ex-assistant Idaho fire chief claims he was fired after opposing tax levy

Terry Gammel claims his right to due process was violated and the district retaliated against him, damaging his reputation and good name


By Ruth Brown
The Idaho Statesman

KUNA, Idaho — The former assistant fire chief of Kuna Rural Fire District filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court claiming that he was fired because he voiced opposition to the levy that commissioners put on the ballot in November 2018.

In the suit, Terry Gammel names the fire district, the former fire chief and the district commissioners as defendants. Gammel claims that his right to due process was violated and the district retaliated against him, damaging his reputation and good name.

Gammel was fired on April 17. He had been hired as assistant fire chief in June 2015, according to copy of the complaint.

The lawsuit revolves around the Kuna Rural Fire District’s levy request in November 2018 to increase its budget. It failed to pass with the needed two-thirds majority vote, garnering about 64 percent in favor. The levy asked for an additional $1.1 million a year and it would have cost taxpayers another $96 per $100,000 of taxable property value, for a rough total of $230.

According to the lawsuit filed by Gammel, sometime before he was hired, Kuna Rural Fire District started providing its own ambulance services rather than relying on Ada County’s. Gammel claims that he was then asked by Fire Chief Perry Palmer in 2018 to be on a Tax Levy Review Committee that was discussing the option of a levy to increase income for the district.

“Mr. Gammel believed that when asking District residents to increase taxes through a levy to provide EMS, the District should be very transparent in explaining that the residents were paying taxes for ambulance services via an Ada County tax,” according to the lawsuit.

Gammel felt that providing EMS services took away resources “desperately needed for fire protection,” and he said the district was not being transparent by asking for a levy.

According to the lawsuit, Gammel was told on April 11, 2019, that the district had “decided to go another way” with the assistant chief position and his employment would end the following week. He was given the option to resign and he declined, according to the claim.

Gammel filed a grievance with the fire chief on April 11 regarding his impending termination, claiming that the chief should be involved in any employee disciplinary action.

On April 17 the commission voted unanimously to dismiss Gammel and “immediately” relieve him of his active duty status. He claims that was a violation of his right to fair and due process and was not compliant with employee policy.

The Idaho Statesman reached out to the Kuna Rural Fire District’s commission and its attorney on Tuesday and did not receive a response.

Because the commission discussed his termination, deeming it an “immediate” dismissal during a public meeting, Gammel claims in the lawsuit that it imposed a “stigma on his professional reputation.”

Among other things, the lawsuit asks for back pay, compensatory damages, reinstatement and/or front pay in lieu of reinstatement and punitive damages, and Gammel is demanding a jury trial.

The fire district has not responded to the lawsuit.

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©2019 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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