Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Mayor’s Miscue Leads To Resignation

By Rick Outzen

Mayor Hayward blew an interview, failed to correct his misstatements, and sat silently as his staff fought to defend him and the qualifications of their boss.  Stonewalled by the city hall, reporters began investigating and uncovered several irregularities.

On July 24, Mayor Hayward is interviewed by WEAR TV reporter Amber Southard about his restructuring of his administration and the qualifications of his Chief Operations Officer. He misstated her salary and her degrees: “She’s very qualified, having an undergrad from Florida State and an MBA from the University of West Florida, so she understands government.”

COO Tamara Fountain that night sent Southard an email: “There is a bunch of stuff wrong in the story. I just watched the story. I am not a CFO. My salary is wrong. My time with responsibilities is wrong. Schools.”

When Inweekly called her about the segment, the reporter said that she called Fountain when she got the email. Southard told Fountain that she never said CFO in the interview. Fountain admitted that she hadn’t seen the interview, but a friend had called her. Southard asked Fountain to tell her the corrections so that she should change the story. Fountain said she would email the reporter the corrections on Monday (July 28). No such email was received. Southard put in a record request for Fountain’s resume and personnel file.

At this point, Mayor Hayward should have gone back on WEAR TV and corrected the misstatement and defended his hiring of Fountain. If he had, it would have been a one-day story, no crisis.

Inweekly put in a public record request for Fountain’s and Olson’s personnel folders. We have since learned that the PNJ had done the same. The city delayed releasing the information for a week.  Eventually, we asked the State Attorney’s Office to intervene on our behalf.

Delaying the release of the public information only brought more attention to the issue. By then, Hayward and Fountain should have been aware there was a problem with the WEAR TV interview. Still they remained silent.

On July 31, the daily newspaper published an editorial. The daily newspaper quoted the WEAR report about Fountain’s salary and degrees. It asked the mayor to publish Fountain’s resume on his “Transparency” page.

The mayor had another opportunity to correct his misstatements. If Fountain and Olson had hidden the public requests from the media for the COO’s resume, he knew about it on July 31. Still he remained silent.

The following week, the media began to get back information from Florida State University and the University of West Florida. Fountain attended Fall 1988 through Summer 1993 and Fall 2000 through Spring 2002, but no degree was awarded. She did not have an MBA from UWF. In 2008, she was awarded a Bachelors of Business Administration. The city finally released the personnel folders. The PNJ got the information first and published its story online before noon on Thursday, Aug. 6. Fountain’s folder had no resume and showed a rapid rise to affluence and power.

The records revealed that Fountain began working for the mayor in November 2012.  Her company, TWF LLC, was paid $60,000 to provide “communication services.”

On July 1, 2013, Fountain moved from vendor to employee. She was hired as Communications Administrator, with no experience in marketing, public relations, media or public administration. She was not required to submit a resume or go through a background check. The position was not advertised. Her starting salary: $84,988.80. The salary was higher than that of the Escambia County’s Public Information Manager, who had 25 years experience in the field.

Six months later, Fountain’s salary was increased to $100,006—$20,000 more than her county counterpart. There is no explanation or job performance evaluation in her personnel folder to justify the raise.

In August 2014, City Administrator Colleen Castille was told her services are no longer needed. Fountain became Chief Operations Officer. Her Initiatives Coordinator, Eric Olson, was promoted to Assistant City Administrator. Fountain was paid an additional $700 a week to help share City Administrator duties. Those stipends didn’t end until March 31, 2015, and totaled over $20,000.

In March 2015, Olson was made City Administrator. His salary was $133,000, $3,000 more that his predecessors, Bill Reynolds and Castille. Fountain was given a $15,000 raise, increasing her salary to $114,982. She was given control of the Pensacola International Airport, Port of Pensacola and Pensacola Energy Services.

When the PNJ published its story, the mayor refused to talk to the reporter, letting his City Administrator Eric Olson and Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart awkwardly explain his misstatements and Fountain’s qualifications.

Fountain responded to the daily newspaper, but her statement contained even more misstatements. She tried to say her email to Southard corrected the mayor’s misstatements. It did not. She said she met the qualifications for the job, but it was obvious that the job qualifications were written to fit her and weren’t consistent with those of a Chief Operations Officer.

On Monday, Aug. 10, the city announced that the COO had resigned “in order to pursue other opportunities.”

The press release listed her accomplishments: “In 2013, Fountain spearheaded the “Sunshine in the City” initiative, overhauling the City’s public records system, establishing sunshine training for staff, and rolling out a new citizen-focused website – changes which helped Pensacola be recognized as having the third most transparent municipal website in Florida. More recently, Fountain led the effort to conform the City’s EDATE tax abatement process to state and county requirements.”

For the first time in two weeks, Mayor Hayward publicly defended Fountain. He said in the press release, “As the scope of the challenges I assigned Tamara increased, she met each one.”

Fountain sent a letter to the Pensacola City Council. She said, “It has been an honor to work for the citizens of Pensacola.”

She said her decision to resign was due to personal attacks that she said were “unfair and unproductive.” The former COO accused some of the local media and bloggers of having “repeatedly crossed the line and bullied public employees and public officials.”

“In our role as public servants, we don’t respond, but the toll it takes on productivity and morale and our families cannot be overstated,” Fountain wrote. “Over the past few days, my home address, personal phone number and other personal information have been posted to the internet.”

She said, “I am a wife and a mother and the bottom line is simply that this is too much to ask of my family.”

On the evening news on Aug. 10, Mayor Hayward had another interview with WEAR reporter Amber Southard. He blamed his misstatement about his former COO’s education and qualifications on the number of employees under his control.

“It’s impossible to know everybody’s degree at city hall,” said Hayward. “You know, Eric (Olson) has a Masters, Vern (Stewart) has a Masters. You can’t keep track of 800-plus employees’ resumes.”

On Fountain, he said, “She was doing a great job for the city of Pensacola.”