Apple Valley fire chief says assault complaint against mayor, not fear mongering, led to his termination

Composite image. Background photo shows Apple Valley welcome sign as seen from SR-59, Apple Valley, Utah, date unspecified. Inset image of former Fire Chief David Zolg Jr., date and location not specified | Background photo courtesy of Google Maps. Inset photo courtesy of the town of Apple Valley, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —  Apple Valley Fire Department Chief Dave Zolg Jr. was fired from his post last week, and with the mayoral election just two weeks away, Mayor Dale Beddo is facing some difficult questions because of the action.

Although the reason for Zolg’s termination was stated as being a response to a recent incident involving a leak in a water tank, the former fire chief told St. George News it had more to do with a human resources complaint he filed with the town against Beddo for physically assaulting him in May.

Zolg was fire chief for the last four years. His firing continues a long-running dispute between Apple Valley administrations and the Fire Department, as previously reported in St. George News.

Former Deputy Chief Blackhawk Walters, a longtime volunteer with the Fire Department, told St. George News that Beddo is a “criminal mayor who is running rogue and putting our citizens’ lives in jeopardy.”

“There is no way to fully comprehend the untold disaster he has brought upon our town,” said Walters, who is also the head of the Republican Party in Apple Valley.

The incident that preceded Zolg’s firing occurred at the Apple Valley water storage tank at the top of Rome Way in the rocky hills above town.

The Apple Valley water tank is being repaired for a leak, Apple Valley, Utah, Oct. 19, 2021 | Photo by David Zolg, St. George News

Zolg said the Fire Department got a call from a resident in the area reporting a leak in the water tank and that he and Walters went to the scene to investigate on Oct. 11.

“We noticed a 4- to 6-inch leak springing water out at roughly 10 to 20 gallons a minute,” Zolg said, adding that after realizing that the leak was worse than he expected, he decided to email the Town Council, mayor and public works director.

“After emailing them,” he said, “I decided to let the residents in danger in the area know that we had a leak in the tank, and if they see any water running down the road or running down the cliff’s edge, to call 911 so that we can respond quickly.”

Zolg said he went to the homes at the top of the hill while Walters visited the homes at the bottom of the hill. In all, he estimated that they visited maybe 15 total homes.

He said as he was leaving the area, Beddo pulled up beside him and “demanded that I stop warning anyone. ‘Cease and desist,’ he said.”

“I told him that it was already done and that I was doing exactly what I am trained to do.” 

In a letter dated Oct. 13 and obtained by St. George News, Beddo wrote to Zolg that his actions in the matter had “created an unnecessary level of fear in our community.”

“Your decision to take such action without notice to or the consent of the Mayor, Council and the Water District has caused for us, the town officials, a loss of confidence in your ability to serve in the capacity of Fire Chief,” the letter continued.

The letter goes on to point out that a municipal fire chief may be terminated with or without cause by the mayor. 

“Although cause is not necessary for your termination, just cause certainly exists as partially outlined above,” Beddo wrote, terminating Zolg from the position effective immediately.

The letter is signed by Beddo and Town Council members Paul Edwardsen, Mike McLaughlin and Marty Lisonbee.

Rushing water tears through a rural wash, Apple Valley, Utah, Sept. 9, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Deborah An Glenn Crowe

The only council member not to sign the letter was Kevin Sair. He told St. George News on Tuesday that he didn’t agree with what the mayor and other town council members were doing.

“I think they’re consolidating power,” he said. “They have big plans for this area.”

When asked if he believed Beddo is qualified to be mayor and is acting in the public interest, Sair said, “I believe that he has a lot of qualifications. However I don’t believe he’s following the will of the people.”

Zolg said he believes he was just doing his job when the water leak occurred and that his firing goes back to the HR complaint he filed against Beddo. 

Zolg’s complaint said that Beddo physically assaulted him on May 12 and that the incident was witnessed by another town employee. The complaint described Beddo “picking me up and holding me against his body, while I was trying to pull his clenched fingers apart to release me.” 

Zolg said that ever since he filed the complaint, Beddo has been looking for an excuse to fire him.

St. George News spoke with Beddo on Tuesday afternoon, and he said that wasn’t the case.

“Of course not,” he said. “You can check and verify with other council members that all during those meetings, I stood up for Junior (Zolg) and defended him. Whenever anyone asked me about it, I said, ‘I just want to work with him.’”

Beddo further pointed out that Zolg’s termination letter spells out why he was released, including the following:

We have received complaints from landowners and contractors alike with concerns over processing of building permits. In addition we have received complaints from residents of poor attitude, rude behavior, and a general lack of response and respect towards their needs and applications.

The letter also stated – and Beddo reiterated to St. George News – that the city tried for months to get Zolg to come to meetings and discuss his role as chief. However, Zolg never went to those meetings.

“I recused myself from all actions about the HR complaint,” Beddo said. “The council held a private session without me, as is appropriate, to talk about it, and it was handled by the proper state authorities.”

Zolg said the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Utah Attorney General’s Office investigated his original complaint, which he filed as a criminal assault charge against Beddo.

“They told me the county prosecutors don’t want to prosecute, because ‘there’s no intent to cause bodily harm,’ I think is what they said,” he said. “So they advised me to go to my HR (department), so I did exactly that.”

Sair said that Zolg’s HR complaint was seen by the council, and they decided to have Beddo resolve it.

“It did go through channels first and ended up in his (Beddo’s) lap,” Sair said.

Fire Chief David Zolg Jr., date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the town of Apple Valley, St. George News

He said he “absolutely” believed it was inappropriate that the mayor handle an HR complaint that was lodged against him personally and that it supported Zolg’s notion that the mayor was creating an unsafe working environment for staff employees. 

When asked if he personally feared retribution for speaking out against the mayor, Sair said, “I’m not worried about it because I’m standing for truth and justice, and I’m willing to take that battle however it comes.” 

Zolg said no action has been taken to address his HR complaint.

As for the leaking water tank, Beddo said both the Town Council and the state have been aware of the leak “for months” and that its repair is proceeding on schedule.

“We didn’t want to drain it to repair it during wildfire season,” he said. “I believe they’re up there draining it right now.”

Beddo said he has heard comments around town that he wants to destroy the town’s infrastructure as much as he can in the two months he has left as mayor, despite the fact that he is running for mayor again.

“I’m not sure the people really understand the government of our town and what its role is,” Beddo said. “I have no authority beyond administration. I can’t take or cause the actions being implied; that’s just not the true nature of government.”

Beddo, who said he was out of town for a funeral the last day applications for mayor could be filed, will be running as a write-in candidate.

The election is Nov. 2. 

Beddo said the job of fire chief in Apple Valley is open and the town is taking applications until Friday at 5 p.m.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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