Murfreesboro hires fire chief previously censured for anti-trans harassment

A few weeks ago O&AN reported that the city of Murfreesboro was considering the appointment of Mark Foulks to replace 35-year veteran Cumbey Gaines as Murfreesboro Fire & Rescue Department (MFRD) Fire Chief. Concerned city workers approached O&AN expressing their reservations about Foulks’ candidacy, given a history of documented anti-LGBT harrassment.

As assistant chief in Knoxville in 2006, Foulks was found by the Knoxville Civil Service Board to have engaged in a pattern of harrassment against transgender fire captain Jamie Faucon. Many of Foulks’ actions against Faucon were reversed by then-mayor Bill Haslam.

The Board also expressed concern that city employees felt intimidated by Foulks and others: “I am concerned by statements made by several witnesses indicating fear of retribution by Mark Foulks and Mike Brown." The Board went on to cite one fire officer, who said he'd "never seen such a vindictive group in his department and that 'if you make waves, you get punished by these people.'"

When Murfreesboro city employees and citizens began to express their concern, they made little headway, and so they finally reached out to O&AN because the Foulks-Faucon controversy was covered extensively in the paper in 2006.

Murfreesboro city leaders declined the opportunity to speak with O&AN when we brought these issues to their attention three weeks ago. Public Information Officer Michael Browning issued a general statement insisting that the city would engage in a “systematic and equitable” search, but refused to even confirm that Foulks was a candidate.

Yesterday, however, the Daily News Journal reported that Murfreesboro had indeed offered Foulks the position and announced that he would assume the post on August 24, 2015.

In response to a request for comment on the fact that Foulks’ appointment as a matter of concern to LGBT employees and their allies, as well as members of the community, Browning responded that “the City of Murfreesboro has a record of conducting systematic and equitable job searches. City administrators are confident that is also the case with the Fire & Rescue Chief search.”

Browning also called Foulks’ record more than satisfactory, including his record in Knoxville.

While Browning acknowledged the “allegation” from Knoxville was covered during this process, this is apparently not a matter of concern for city leaders: “The City-conducted reference checks with the City of Greenville and City of Knoxville were more than satisfactory. After nine years as Fire Chief, the City of Greenville described Foulks’ performance as excellent and professional, including respect from firefighters that work for him. The reference check with the City of Knoxville revealed the same excellent and professional job performance as assistant chief. The City did review a 2006 allegation as part of the selection process and with the candidate himself.”

Given that the “allegation” was affirmed by Knoxville’s own review board and Foulks’ moves were reversed by Mayor Haslam, this seems to take the matter rather lightly. Browning even asserted, on behalf of the Murfreesboro city leaders who chose Foulks, that “We are comfortable with Chief Foulks as Murfreesboro’s next Fire Chief and our employees should be as well.” However, as evidenced by the calls and tips from concerned city employees, the fact is that city employees are not comfortable with the decision, even if they “should be.”

Marisa Richmond, a representative of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, responded to the news of Foulks’ appointment, saying, “This is a real disappointment given his track record of not treating trans employees in Knoxville with dignity and respect.  This is also a concern since transgender residents must now wonder if they will be treated fairly in the event of an emergency. We hope that he will sit down with members of the transgender community in Murfreesboro to share his attitude towards equal rights and equal opportunity within the department.”




Photo of Foulks via Daily News Journal

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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