Firings cause confusion for department

Public Safety officials have yet to explain the departures, causing some legislators to worry.
Friday, April 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:36 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Missouri State Fire Marshal William Farr resigned earlier this month, and the Missouri Department of Public Safety now lacks directors for two of its divisions.

Farr resigned April 15, four days before Keith Fuller, director of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, and his deputy, Lori Baskins, were fired after an internal investigation. Public Safety spokeswoman Terri Durdaller said Farr was not under investigation when he left, but she would not say more about his departure.

Farr was out of town on Thursday and could not be reached for comment. He was appointed to his position in April 1996 by Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Durdaller said the state fire marshal’s duties include supervising all units of the Division of Fire Safety, acting as a liaison between local and state fire agencies and providing technical support on legislation dealing with fire departments.

Meanwhile, the terminations of Fuller and Baskins are raising some eyebrows in the Capitol. Both were fired April 19 after an internal investigation ordered earlier this month by Public Safety Director Mark James. Fuller at the time had already been placed on administrative leave at James’ behest, and Baskins at the time was acting supervisor.

Some legislators have said they were unaware the two had been fired and expressed concern that the department has refused to give a cause.

“I’m trying to find out why, and I can’t,” said Rep. Edward Wildberger, D-St. Joseph. “I don’t know what they were investigating him for. I’ve requested information from the department.”

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, learned of the findings from a Missourian reporter and called them “surprising.”

Durdaller said the firings were not a simple result of a change in administration. Fuller, who was originally appointed by former Gov. Bob Holden in 2001, was initially retained by Gov. Matt Blunt.

Steve Shimmens, now acting supervisor of Fuller’s former division, would not comment and directed calls to Durdaller. Durdaller said a permanent supervisor would be appointed by the governor “in the near future.”

Several employees of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control also refused to comment. Computer supervisor Dewayne Sprenger said department staff had been instructed by Shimmens to direct all calls from the media to Durdaller.

“They told us that in the last week or two, after (Fuller) left,” Sprenger said.

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