Browning to Return as Louisiana Fire Marshal After Probe

By KEVIN McGILL | May 8, 2012

Butch Browning, who resigned as state fire marshal last month, will return to the job Monday after a state police investigation turned up no evidence that he attempted to defraud the state or violate the public trust, the commander of Louisiana State Police said Friday.

Browning had announced his resignation months after a public watchdog group forwarded allegations of mismanagement and fraud to state police and the state inspector general.

An investigation showed evidence that some managerial procedures in the department need to be improved, said Col. Mike Edmonson, head of state police and deputy secretary of the Department of Public Safety.

Browning had no criminal intent and has done a good job in the post he has held since 2008, he said.

The allegations had been forwarded by the Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans. The organization’s president, Rafael Goyeneche said there is evidence that Browning made serious managerial mistakes.

“I think the decisions to bring him back are based more on politics and less on what indiscretions and what managerial mistakes he made during his tenure,” Goyeneche said Friday.

Edmonson insisted that the probe results and his decision to bring Browning back had nothing to do with politics.

“This was my decision alone. I looked at the facts involved,” Edmonson said.

The inspector general’s investigation of Browning is continuing. Inspector General Stephen Street declined comment on specifics of the investigation.

Earlier this week, a state House committee working on the state’s budget voted to strip funding for the Inspector General’s Office. Panel member Joe Harrison of Napoleonville said he urged the stripping of the money because the office duplicates work of other agencies. He acknowledged in an interview with The Advocate, published Friday, that he was upset about the investigation of Browning, but said that was not the reason for the budget committee action.

Among the allegations forwarded include accusations that Browning’s employees went to Tuscaloosa, Ala., in May 2011 to assist with recovery after a series of tornadoes there and were allegedly told to bill the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 18-hour work days (it is unclear whether FEMA paid); a charge that Browning suppressed a finding that a certificate should not have been issued by one of his inspectors for a carnival ride on which two teenagers were injured in Greensburg, La.; and accusations that Browning publicly wore military ribbons he had not earned.

Edmonson said many of the allegations involve papers that Browning signed as a matter of routine but did not thoroughly read. He said the ribbons were given to Browning by the Gonzales Fired Department and that he stopped wearing them some time ago after questions were raised about the propriety and legality of his wearing them were raised. He said there was no evidence of criminal intent or fraud involved in any of the allegations. He said there is evidence that managerial policies and procedures need to be addressed in the office and that will happen.

Edmonson said he told Browning he wanted him back on the job after hearing an outpouring of support from local officials around the state, adding that Browning has brought efficiency and valuable training programs to the office.

“The integrity of the Office of State Fire Marshal is one of my top priorities,” Browning said in a news release. “It’s what the public expects. I welcome the opportunity to make positive changes and appreciate the input from the Inspector General.”

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