Multiple people affiliated with the Marion Fire Department recently reached out to us, on the condition of anonymity, about a promotion within the department, which they say represents an act of nepotism.
On March 27, 2020, Nick Planck was promoted to Assistant Chief of the Marion Fire Department, despite having served fewer years and having less experience than a number of other firefighters who also applied for the position. This promotion came after his brother, Justin Planck, was named Deputy Chief, which is the position directly above that of Assistant Chief.
All of this took place between January and March of 2020, despite the fact that Indiana Code includes a provision prohibiting nepotism within public agencies such as fire departments.
Indiana Code 36-1-20.2-10 states “Individuals who are relatives may not be employed by a unit in a position that results in one (1) relative being in the direct line of supervision of the other relative.”
According to one of the individuals who reached out to us, nepotism is hardly a new phenomenon in government. “It’s pretty clear that Indiana has had a long history of nepotism in local governments. In the early 2000’s lawmakers had to write these laws to prohibit unfair hiring and promoting.”
This person continued by explaining “[t]he chain of command is Private, Engineer, Captain, Assistant Chief, Deputy Chief, then Chief… This is a direct line of supervision from brother Justin Planck to brother Nick Planck.”
Chief Paul David, who was promoted to chief by Mayor Alumbaugh in January of 2020, first named Justin Planck as Deputy Chief, and soon after that, he named Nick Planck as Assistant Chief.
Chief David told us that he took many factors into consideration before promoting Nick Planck. “We checked with the city attorney before any decision was made. Planck is an IU graduate with 13 years in the department. He’s hazmat, scuba, and water rescue certified. We looked at all of those factors.”
However, another individual we spoke with informed us that there were four other applicants for the Assistant Chief position, all of which had more years and experience under their belt.
All four had more seniority and rank on the department, had more education related to the fire service and more training and experience. All four of the other applicants either held or had held the rank of Chief of the Department, Assistant Chief or Captain. Nick Planck had never held any of these positions nor has he had equivalent responsibilities due to the fact he has less time on the Marion Fire Department, less experience and has less training. Nick Planck’s highest rank is that of an Engineer/Driver.
They also added that
This promotion evidences total nepotism with a total disregard to the betterment of the of the Department and jeopardizes the safety of our citizens. The m[e]ssage sent to the younger members of the Department that it does not pay to better yourself with additional training and education, because you won’t be promoted unless you have a relative on the Department.
According to those that reached out to us, they are not the only ones concerned about this move by the department, because “[t]he feeling is very strong throughout the Department” that Nick Planck’s promotion only happened because his brother had just been named Deputy Chief.
The Board of Public Works and Safety in Marion is the entity responsible for overseeing promotions made within the Marion Fire Department. However, in mid-March, the Board suspended all meetings and activity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is not definitively clear whether or not the Board was able to approve Nick Planck’s promotion to Assistant Chief, placing him directly under his brother, the Deputy Chief, in the chain of command.
Those associated with MFD agreed that the promotion should not stand and that something needs to be done by the city to reverse it.
Based upon Indiana’s nepotism laws there is a blatant conflict of interest related to Nick Planck’s promotion to Assistant Chief. Either Nick Planck’s promotion to Assistant Chief should be denied or Justin Planck should be reassigned to a different role within the Department. Based upon Indiana law Nick Planck’s promotion should be denied by the City of Marion’s Board of Work[s] and Safety.
Another person told us he believes “Grant County Prosecutor’s office should look at this incident and make a determination.”
It was explained to us that a complaint could be filed with the Indiana Attorney General’s office about this questionable situation. We were told that, technically, whistleblower laws could protect anyone who files a complaint, but that particular person also said he does not expect anyone within the Marion Fire Department will follow through with such actions.
While these moves taken by the Marion Fire Department could create issues within the department itself, we were reminded that repercussions may also be felt by both the city and its residents.
To be promoted to a rank of this level, it would be in the best interest of the citizens we are called upon to protect, that promotions be merit based and not based upon nepotism… In order to strengthen the shift command staff, it would be important for the Shift Commander/Assistant Chief to be the most experienced, trained and educated so that they tactically and logistically manage an emergency situation.
Some of those that spoke with us were (understandably) hesitant to speak on this matter. However, as one firefighter eloquently stated, these men run into burning buildings, so speaking up about possible corruption should be “nothing” in comparison.
We at Channel 27 News respect and are appreciative of those that do what is necessary — whether that’s running into a burning building or shining a light on troubling situations within our public agencies.