Threats force Hahnville fire chief to resign
Says someone secretly took pictures of his family, left threatening notes on car
While stepping down, Wajda cited threats and harassment from fire department members, including threatening letters left on his car and photos that were anonymously taken of him and his family.
Fire department president Chris Boros has also indicated he will resign in the wake of department infighting.
“They have taken pictures and sent them to Chris Boros anonymously of me, my wife and my 3-year-old child getting into my fire department unit at Dot’s (Diner),” Wajda said, adding that the incident was particularly troubling to him. “I know I am in the public eye, but that crossed a line.”
The move came only a week after a public records request by the St. Charles Herald-Guide revealed members of the fire department, including former Hahnville Fire Chief Reginald Gaubert, are under investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics. Wajda had been looking into questionable financial activity by the fire department. He also said items that were purchased for the department using a FEMA grant, such as ovens and burners, are now missing.
Wajda said he stepped down after being harassed and bullied by six members of the fire department, including some members of the department’s advisory board. In addition to constant questioning of Wajda’s leadership and his qualifications for the job, he also had threatening notes left on his car, one of which read, “Stanley. You need to leave my family alone. Or else!!!!!”
That incident was reported to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and is currently under investigation.Former St. Charles Parish president and Hahnville resident Chris Tregre attended the meeting as a concerned citizen and addressed the accusations that Wajda had been subjected to threats after looking into questionable financial activity in the fire department.
“That is a good thing, people ought to be proud of that. In my experience in politics, when people make a threat to have you stop or else they just admitted guilt,” he said.
Tregre said during his two terms as parish president from 1992 to 2000, he found occasions of embezzlement in other local volunteer fire departments.
“I really believe there is something wrong here and it needs to be investigated. As a matter of fact, I think they ought to call for a legislative auditor to come in and do a forensic audit on the whole place and that will tell everything. You can’t hide money, it goes in and it goes out,” he said.
Although Wajda submitted his resignation, many members of the fire department were hesitant to accept it.
“I voted to keep him. The man is out there 60 hours a week instead of 40, the man was dedicated,” Davis Nicholas, former president of the fire department board, said. “I voted to put him in there in the first place. He did nothing wrong.”
During the proceedings, 35-year Hahnville fire department member Dwayne Tregre at one point became emotional and began pounding on the table and yelling.
“I’d like to say I have been in this fire department for 35 years and I have not seen nothing like this. We all joined this fire department and are supposed to be adults and not fight each other. We volunteer to fight fires, not this,” he said.
D. Tregre said he could not support Wajda’s resignation.
“This man did a great job in the last six months. I am not accepting his resignation,” he said.
The general vote to accept Wajda’s resignation was deadlocked with 9 votes for and 9 votes against with two abstentions. When Wajda notified members that if they did not accept his resignation he would file injunctions against those in the fire department he sees as aggressors, two of his supporters flipped their votes and his resignation was officially accepted.
“Under my contract it says that both parties have to agree and if we don’t agree then we go to arbitration and that costs money. I am bound by contract, if I stay tomorrow I file an injunction and once that is done those six people (who have harassed me) have to stay away from the fire department. I don’t want to have to do that to this community because they need the fire protection,” he said.
In his resignation announcement, Wajda revealed that he had contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office as well as the internal affairs unit at the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office – two of the HVFD members are Sheriff’s Office employees.
“The sh** storm ain’t hit yet and when it does it is coming with a fury,” he said. †
Wajda said he feels that the fire department needs to be taken over by a citizen advisory board until the issues they are experiencing can be corrected.
“I think it is better to take people from the public who have nothing to do with this and start sitting them on the board of directors,” he said. †
Darren Drumm, a former member of the East St. Charles Volunteer Fire Department who joined the Hahnville unit just over a year ago, said he has never seen anything like the infighting that is going on in his new department.
“All of these business meetings I went to since Stanley was elected, it seems like anything he tried to do was not good enough for (Gaubert) or people who side with (Gaubert),” he said.
Drumm said he agreed with the assessment that Wajda had been harassed by members of the Hahnville advisory board.
“I would consider that bullying or some sort of harassment. With these (threatening) letters and all of these emails, I would figure in my eyes that seems like some sort of harassment to me. I wouldn’t like it,” he said.
Raynee Tregre, a five-year member of HVFD, said she is disappointed in those who led Wajda’s ouster.
“It is a shame and it is sad that these people had to bully the one person we got voted in for a paid chief. It is a damn shame,” she said.
She said she will be pulling her daughter out of the department’s junior fireman program.
“I don’t want her to be exposed to this. I don’t understand. I can’t see how anyone would want to join now with all of this going on,” R. Tregre said.
Wajda said now that he has stepped down and HVFD has accepted his resignation, he will be attending an open meeting on July 9 and will bring to light paperwork which he says shows someone forged his signature to capture FEMA grant money during Hurricane Katrina.
“I am out of it, I am a citizen now and I will be here July 9 to ask some questions. I want to know why my name was on that FEMA report,” he said. †
Board members Philip Matherne, Jennifer Commardelle and Dawn Landry as well as former HVFD paid administrator Jami Tregre Gaubert, who all voted for Wajda’s removal, declined to be interviewed for this story.
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