Former Cairo Fire Chief resigned the day before turning himself in to the GBI

The Cairo City Manager confirmed GBI allegations that the former chief made “questionable purchases” from a Fire Department account
A photo of former Cairo Fire Chief William “Bill” Thomas Schafer in 2020.
A photo of former Cairo Fire Chief William “Bill” Thomas Schafer in 2020.(Source: WALB)
Published: Jun. 3, 2023 at 7:30 AM EDT
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CAIRO, Ga. (WCTV) - The former Cairo Fire Chief resigned from the department the day before he turned himself in to the Grady County Jail, according to the city manager.

The new details on his departure come 8 days after William “Bill” Schafer’s arrest. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation so far has charged Schafer, 45, with two counts of felony theft by taking and one felony count of violating oath of office, according to a press release. The bureau said investigators plan to bring more charges related to spending forward.

Former Cairo Fire Marshall Stephen McKinnon will serve as interim chief while the city conducts a “full search” for a new head of the fire department, the city manager said. McKinnon stepped in immediately after Schafer’s resignation, he said.

City Manager Julian Brown said he was aware of the GBI investigation into Schafer, and he suspended the former fire chief with pay on May 16 after “looking into financials.” Still, Brown said it was surprising to hear of Schafer’s arrest because of “the human side of it, small town.”

“He resigned, and then two days later I found out he was arrested,” Brown said in an interview.

The city manager said he found out about Schafer’s arrest when the GBI publicly announced his arrest on May 26.

Brown confirmed statements from the GBI that Schafer made “questionable purchases” from a Fire Department account, some of which “would be ‘personal’ and ‘non-fire related,’” but he declined to expand. He declined to share a timeline of the alleged purchases or if the alleged spending was a longtime behavior.

The city and fire department will not conduct any further investigation into Schafer or other staff and do not have concerns about contentious spending from other employees, Brown said. The city will cooperate with the GBI investigation, he said.

“From a personnel standpoint, once he resigned it’s all in GBI’s hands,” the city manager said.

Cairo officials have not yet discussed if they will seek reimbursement from Schafer over his alleged spending misconduct, according to Brown.

“We have not gotten that far,” he said.

The news of Schafer’s arrest came as a shock to the entire Cairo Fire Department, according to Brown. The former chief had a good reputation in the department and a good relationship with his team, the city manager said. Schafer took charge of the department in 2014.

“He was always very friendly to everybody,” Brown said.

The arrest and allegations against Schafer do not reflect on the fire department or city, Brown added.

“We have great guys who work for the fire department, and I don’t believe this a reflection on the fire department,” he said.

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