COVINGTON - For the first time since his wife was found shot to death in their burned home in July, St. Tammany Fire District 12 Chief Steve Krentel returned to work Wednesday.
With his return came a myriad of allegations about his actions in the workplace that are now the subject of a Civil Service investigation.
"There's been no evidence to support anything that's said in the written document," said Board Attorney Henry Olinde, "So at this point, the board's process is simply going to be about seeing if there is evidence to back up the allegations."
The allegations, submitted in a letter by District 12 firefighter and resident Tom Williamson, include possible misuse of district property and sick leave, as well as a possible relationship with a subordinate and claims of intimidation. It also raises questions about nepotism in relation to Chief of Administration Mike Haley, who has been serving as interim chief while Krentel was out on personal leave.
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"He has some great concerns about the direction of the fire department and making it the best it possibly could be," said Attorney Roy Burns, who is representing Williamson, "He'd like to see a change in the direction of the leadership here."
Krentel, who was at the meeting, says the complaint is full of hearsay and speculation, with the exception of the improper relationship. He says that was more than two years ago and his wife knew about.
"I don't appreciate it because it has nothing to do with the investigation nor the ability to do my job because I was not her supervisor in any capacity," said Krentel, "There is no basis on anything that calls into question my ability to do my job, calls into question anything about the death of my wife."
The investigation into the murder of Krentel's wife, Nanette, is on-going and recently included the addition of the FBI. Krentel says he told investigators about the relationship and they interviewed the woman involved about it. He also says he's turned over names of people, both currently involved and previously involved with the district, that he believes need to be interviewed in the murder case. Detectives confirm they have spoken with those people.
"I believe they have decided that they do not want me here because they have been concerned. And when I say they, the employees, and the employee that launched this letter," said Krentel, "His goal I don't totally understand, but he has made his own decision that I have something to do with it and feels like the spotlight that has been called to me, for the tragedy that I've lived through, is going to impact the organization."
An investigator working the murder case, and Nanette's sister Amy Bernard, were present for the meeting launching the investigation.
"For them to be so discouraged, I'm just hoping and praying that they will definitely get some justice for themselves," said Bernard.
That will be determined over the next 60 days. In the meantime, Krentel can remain at the office and a standard no retaliation order has been issued district-wide. The board is scheduled to meet on November 20 to begin hearing evidence.
This isn't the fire district's first brush with controversy. In the Fall of 2015, an Eyewitness investigation into questionable spending led to several administrators leaving, either through resignations or terminations.
The District Attorney's Office started investigating the allegations as well, but had no comment about its status.