Boise Mayor Lauren McLean wanted the city’s former fire chief, Dennis Doan, to resign his position in early 2020. After days of back and forth, he was moments away from the Boise City Council voting to fire him when he abruptly resigned.
That’s according to a reconstruction of events pieced together by BoiseDev based on multiple interviews of sources knowledgable about the situation more than a year ago.
The resignation came after weeks of back-and-forth with then-new Mayor Lauren McLean and her staff, in a move the sources said lined up with a new mayor working to establish her executive team.
The events of that week remained largely unknown for more than a year. Doan held a news conference on the steps of Boise City Hall, but didn’t answer several questions about the reason the city asked him to resign, and directed the media to ask the mayor’s office. But the mayor, citing laws and policies around personnel matters, remained largely quiet.
Earlier this year, the Idaho Statesman and The (Tacoma) News Tribune reported on Doan’s new job as fire chief for the City of Gig Harbor, Washington. The News Tribune’s editorial board ran an opinion piece calling on the City of Gig Harbor to increase transparency around what happened with Doan’s exit from his job in Boise.
We noted on Twitter that we still didn’t fully know what happened a year ago with Doan’s exit, which caused a source with direct knowledge of the situation to reach out, under the condition we not share the person’s name or position. BoiseDev then worked to confirm the details of the account with five other people who had knowledge of the situation.
We also asked the City of Boise and McLean’s spokesperson to confirm the details of the account. The city again reiterated it wouldn’t comment on the personnel matter.
We also asked Doan a series of questions, and his response to our reporting is reflected through this story.
The sources helped fill in gaps in the timeline, and each fact in this story is supported by at least two of those sources, or material publicly available at the time.
The sources said McLean decided to make a change at the top of the Boise Fire Department. Doan served in the department for nearly 30 years, including 12 years as chief. Former Boise Mayor Dave Bieter appointed Doan to the job, and he became a strong political ally of Bieter.
During the 2019 campaign, Doan actively raised money for Bieter as he had in previous election cycles. He also donated to a political action committee that operated out of Boise City Hall West, until BoiseDev noticed the issue.
Here’s what our sources say transpired next.
Doan and McLean negotiate
After her swearing-in, Doan and McLean held face-to-face meetings. At one point, McLean and staff put an offer in front of Doan with a severance package totaling $50,000. But Doan balked and said he wanted a higher amount – amounting to $100,000.
Doan denied he asked for $100,000, but did not elaborate on what amount he did ask for. He said the city asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which he did not agree to.
During the same time period, BoiseDev reported on a severance package for another top Bieter staffer that added up to more than $40,000 for just about three weeks of work, handed out by Bieter during his final days in office.
Doan also wanted to stay on the city payroll longer than McLean preferred. He told the media during the news conference that he would retire “at the end of May.” But McLean wanted him out sooner.
On Monday, March 2nd, 2020, news broke that the City of Boise placed Doan on administrative leave. The city never elaborated on why.
Two days later, on Wednesday, March 4th, 2020, Doan, McLean, Boise Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn, and HR Director Kelcey Stewart again met.
Three sources confirm McLean came back to Doan with an offer above the $50,000 initially offered, but short of the $100,000 amount he wanted. It also didn’t include a lump sum, but instead included some cash, a contribution to his retirement, and additional time on administrative leave.
The sources said Doan rejected the revised offer, which Doan confirmed.
“I did have another meeting with the mayor and requested to retire/resign effective a couple months later,” he said. “The mayor rejected that offer.”
He also said McLean would not pay out accrued sick and vacation time “at the same rate” Doan claimed the city paid former Boise Police Chief William Bones who left the year before – and other fire deputy and division heads.
Doan’s news conference
Moments after the final meeting, Doan walked out and held the news conference with the media. He said he’d had a “nice meeting” with McLean, without mentioning her by name. He then addressed his administrative leave in a statement that repeatedly reiterated what he says were the reasons behind the leave.
“I want to set the record straight that putting me on administrative leave was not because I did anything wrong” he said. “I was never told I did anything wrong. It was not discipline. I was not accused of anything. I was not told I did anything wrong. I was not told discipline. I want to set the record straight that being put on leave was for cause of anything.”
Each of the people we talked to supported Doan’s assertion that he’d done nothing wrong up to that point. But they said the news conference itself and the answers he gave changed the dynamics of the negotiations.
BoiseDev asked him at the time if he thought that the move to place him on leave was political.
“You’ll have to ask her.”
After watching the news conference, the mayor decided to ask the Boise City Council to fire Doan. In a tweet later that day, Doan released a letter from Stewart. The letter said Doan requested a retirement date of May 29th, but he declined to include that date in the separation agreement the city laid out for him. The letter said instead he “indicated you did not want to enter into a separation agreement on these terms.”
The city then slated a special meeting of the Boise City Council, with a vote to fire Doan without any severance.
On Friday, March 6th, 2020, Doan, supporters, and members of the media gathered in Boise City Council Chambers.
Moments before the meeting started, Doan sent a letter to McLean, resigning his position.
The council convened, and then immediately went into executive session. During the session, staff, the mayor, the council, and attorneys discussed the situation and ultimately decided that since Doan resigned, there was no action to take. Council members returned to the public session and adjourned the meeting.
Sources told BoiseDev that McLean had enough votes among the council to fire Doan.
In the end, Doan walked away without any severance from the city.
Was it political?
The question of if Doan’s ultimate departure from the city was based on politics is yes – according to the sources we talked to.
But one person, who had previously supported Boise Mayor Dave Bieter indicated the politics went both ways. The source said they felt Doan kept his job longer than he otherwise might have because of his political ties to Bieter.
Several of the people we talked to said Doan was popular with union leadership but less so with rank-and-file firefighters. Each person we talked to said the council believed McLean was entitled to her own team.
Doan had a reputation for outfitting city fire facilities in a manner that several people said was “high end” for government buildings. The City of Boise provided BoiseDev with records for a nearly $400,000 remodel project of fire facilities at Boise City Hall West, including a “fireside lounge,” upgrade to a lobby and conference room, and as much as $234,590 for upgrades to offices.
“The conditions for the employees is not very inviting with rows of dingy brown cubicles,” Doan said. “I had been asking for better working conditions for the employees. The city had updated the cubicles in HR a few years earlier and I wanted to do the same for my employees.”
Doan said he did not see a price tag for the upgrades and ultimately Boise Public Works is responsible for upgrades.
The project did not move forward under McLean.
The Idaho Statesman reported it repeatedly tried to get Doan’s personnel file, but Idaho State Code does not allow the release of personnel records. The city told us that Doan could request a copy and release it.
Doan said he never requested his file, but said he had an exemplary career while at Boise Fire.
“I believe the real story is why did the mayor release someone with such an exemplary work history,” he said. “I had a 29-year career that is being defined by the way the mayor handled my departure and because of politics, nothing more. I endorsed and supported the right person for Boise Mayor, he just didn’t win.”
During a meeting of the Gig Habor Fire and Medic One Board of Commissioners yesterday, a member of the board of commissioners read a statement about Doan’s hiring. The statement pushed back on the News Tribune’s opinion piece questioning transparency, and shed new light on the process that went into Doan’s hiring – including a background investigation conducted on Doan.
“The background investigator conducted 24 interviews, and delivered to the board a 45-page report, which was extremely positive and expressed no concerns about chief Doan,” commissioner Eric Wilsie said. “Due to COVID-19 restrictions, an in-person review (of Doan’s personnel file) by the background investigator from Boise was not possible. Instead, the background investigator contacted the human resources department at the City of Boise and asked them to perform a review of Chief Doan’s personnel file, with a particular emphasis on identifying any information in the file that was negative. The HR manager at the City of Boise informed the background investigator that it contained no documents of a negative nature.”
Doan says he’s ready to move forward.
“I shook the dust off my feet as I left Boise and I am excited to begin the next chapter of my life in Gig Harbor,” he told BoiseDev.