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Panel wants to
fire lesbian fire chief instead of letting her resign

Panel wants to
fire lesbian fire chief instead of letting her resign

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A Minneapolis city panel recommended Tuesday that officials fire Bonnie Bleskachek, the nation's first openly lesbian big-city fire chief, in the wake of firefighter lawsuits accusing her of harassment and discrimination. Bleskachek had earlier agreed to step down, but the city's executive council unanimously rejected a negotiated deal after a closed-door meeting.

A Minneapolis city panel recommended Tuesday that officials fire Bonnie Bleskachek, the nation's first openly lesbian big-city fire chief, in the wake of firefighter lawsuits accusing her of harassment and discrimination. Bleskachek had earlier agreed to step down, but the city's executive council unanimously rejected a negotiated deal after a closed-door meeting. "She was pretty stunned because it was a complete surprise," said Bleskachek's attorney, Jerry Burg. Mayor R.T. Rybak had announced the agreement in a letter to the city's executive council in which he wrote that he no longer had confidence in Bleskachek as chief. Neither Rybak nor city council members would immediately explain why the deal was blocked. Bleskachek, 43, was hailed as a trailblazer when she was promoted to the top job two years ago, but her tenure has been troubled. Three female firefighters have sued, alleging various acts of discrimination and sexual harassment. A city investigation ultimately found evidence that the department gave preferential treatment to lesbians or those who socialized with them.

Two of the lawsuits were settled, but earlier this month a male firefighter brought another lawsuit alleging he was denied advancement because he is male and not gay.

Bleskachek was ill with the flu Tuesday and unavailable for comment. She has denied wrongdoing in the past.

Burg said the chief's employment agreement called for her to be reassigned as battalion chief. She would then request a demotion to captain, he said. Burg accused Rybak of spinning the negotiated agreement ''as if he's addressing an employee problem.'' Burg emphasized that any wrongdoing on Bleskachek's part remains unproved, but he acknowledged that she was ready to step down. ''That is something she has wanted for a lot longer than she has been talking about in public,'' Burg said. ''It's been clear for a long time that the job of chief takes energy from her life that she no longer wanted to give it, all things considered.''

Rybak aide Jeremy Hanson said it was not a ''certainty'' that Bleskachek would remain with the department. The city has spent more than $410,000 on the investigation, legal settlements, and compensation for Bleskachek during her paid leave, which began March 22. (AP)

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