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Friday December 15th 2017

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Part 2: Inside the Report

In his report, Beggs & Lane attorney Russell Van Sickle stated how he was hired. He wrote, “On Friday, January 29, 2016, I was asked to perform an investigation into issues involving the management of the Pensacola Fire Department (PFD) by Interim Fire Chief Matthew Schmitt and Deputy Chief Joseph Glover. It was explained to me that the concerns prompting the need for an investigation were initiated by City of Pensacola Human Resources Officer Edward Sisson.”

The persons who met with Van Sickle were City Administrator Eric Olson, Chief Human Resources Officer Ed Sisson and the city’s other labor attorney, Rob Larkin of Allen Norton Blue. Schmitt and Glover had filed EEOC complaints against Olson and Sisson. Larkin was hired to handle the EEOC, and Van Sickle would investigate six complaints lodged by Sisson against the fire chiefs.

Van Sickle summarized Sisson’s allegations in his report:

• Schmitt and Glover intentionally and deceptively deviated from hiring protocol for the recent firefighter hiring round in late January 2016;
• Schmitt and Glover intentionally and deceptively severely retaliated against Edward Deas, an African-American Fire Lieutenant, merely because Deas made a written complaint about Glover;
• Glover poorly managed a “Firefighter Apprenticeship Program,” unnecessarily antagonizing Sisson in the process, where one of the issues was Glover’s alleged poor judgment in renting a BMW 5 series for in-state travel for two persons;
• Glover and Schmitt handled raise requests for the battalion chiefs poorly, and then improperly tried to place the blame on Sisson;
• Glover publicly demeaned Sisson during the Firefighters Annual Awards ceremony; and
• Glover improperly tried to obstruct a random drug test.

Mayor Hayward later joined the meeting. In a May interview with WUWF, he said, “They were asking me to do an investigation of the fire department. So I said, ‘If this is what everyone feels [then] let’s do it, let’s have a third party do it. Let’s make sure we’re covering everything.’ That’s exactly what we did.”

On Feb. 2, Schmitt and Glover went to Pensacola City Hall. Assistant City Administrator Keith Wilkins told them to hand over their keys, cell phones, and laptops. They were placed on paid administrative leave but not given any explanation for the action.

Van Sickle said HR Chief Sisson told him why he filed his complaints.

“Sisson described that the most recent and precipitating event for his concerns involved allegations that Schmitt and Glover intentionally departed from the customary hiring protocol for a new round of firefighters,” said Van Sickle. “Sisson described these concerns as only the latest in a series of acts attempting to exclude or antagonize the City’s Human Resources department, and as a consequence, he contended that PFD upper management was unnecessarily exposing the City to legal claims.”

Three Complaints Against Glover
According to Van Sickle’s report, three of complaints directed at Deputy Chief Glover warranted no disciplinary action.  However, they did show a dysfunctional relationship between Sisson and Glover that the mayor and Olson did little to repair.

Sisson alleged that Glover’s comments made at an annual dinner had been directed at him. Van Sickle said the remarks were “an example of Glover’s poor judgment and an indication of the level of anger or contempt Glover directed toward Sisson.”

But he had added, “However, Glover did not mention Sisson by name and nothing further came out of those remarks.”

Sisson complained that Glover used “poor judgment in renting a BMW 5 series for in-state travel for two persons.”

Van Sickle described the incident in his report, “On July 22, 2015, Glover arrived to pick up the rental vehicle and was told that there were no SUVs, but that for the same price as an SUV he could rent a BMW 5 Series sedan.”

While he questioned why Glover didn’t use a city vehicle or ask for another vehicle, Van Sickle did not find “any intentional misconduct” or other “ill intent” by the deputy fire chief.

Sisson also alleged “Glover improperly tried to obstruct a random drug test.” The deputy fire chief did contest why he was being tested, but Glover did submit to the drug testing and passed it. Van Sickle found the deputy fire chief had done nothing improper.

Complaint: Battalion Chief Raises
The remaining three complaints involved both men. The attorney’s investigation of Sisson’s complaint that Schmitt and Glover handled raise requests for the battalion chiefs poorly, and then improperly tried to place the blame on him came back with mixed results.

Inweekly discovered that while the Pensacola City Council had approved raises in its budget, the Hayward administration had doled out the pay increases without using an objective system, such as job performance evaluations.

Van Sickle did not mention the lack of annual evaluations but determined that blame for the mishandling of the raises was not solely the fault of Schmitt and Glover.

He concluded, “I find that there is blame to go around to all on this issue. Glover and Schmitt should have followed the process described by Sisson, as opposed to merely sending signed Personnel Action forms with no meeting request or even a phone call. On seeing these Personnel Action forms, Sisson should have informed Glover and Schmitt that nothing would be done with them if he was going to do nothing with them…I find that Olson should have informed Schmitt of the amount of funds that could be allocated earlier.”

In his May 28 memo to City Council, Mayor Hayward did not refer to these four allegations as reasons for the terminations. He focused on Sisson’s complaints that they did not follow the hiring protocol in January and that the chiefs retaliated against Lt. Edward Deas for filing a complaint against Glover.

It should be noted that the hiring, assigning and discipline of personnel in the Pensacola Fire Department were solely the responsibility of the fire chief, not his deputy, according to the job descriptions in effect at the time Sisson lodged his complaints against the two men.

Complaint: Hiring Protocol
In January, the Pensacola Fire Department had eight qualified applicants for six positions. Chief Schmitt made the decision to forgo peer interviews. When he came back from military leave, Deputy Chief Glover was told that he and Schmitt would conduct interviews.

“I knew it was different from how we conducted the process when HR was involved, but it was the chief’s call,” Glover told Inweekly. “Though we were interviewing for only six spots, there was a strong likelihood that more positions would open up soon, and the other two would be hired later.”

Glover said he passed all eight candidates. However, Sisson halted the process when he found out a firefighters’ panel hadn’t interviewed, scored and ranked the applicants.

While the firefighters’ panel was not a written rule, Van Sickle concluded the chiefs used “poor judgment” to conduct the hiring process without it. However, he did not find that Schmitt or Glover were attempting to manipulate the hiring process to include or exclude any particular applicant.

Van Sickle concluded that their handling of the hiring process “showed that they were not actually capable of properly handling the process.”

In his May 28 statement, Mayor Hayward agreed with his attorney. He said, “Regardless of whether any Council members agree that proper hiring practices are important, what the former chiefs did was knowingly improper.”

Complaint: Retaliation
Sisson’s allegation of retaliation against Lt. Deas was the most serious and appears to be the primary basis for Mayor Hayward firing Schmitt and Glover.

On May 28, Mayor Hayward stated that the findings of the report demonstrated that Schmitt and Glover “improperly retaliated against a lower ranking firefighter (Edward Deas) merely for making a complaint about Glover.” The mayor said the chiefs did not provide Deas an investigation into his concerns and demoted him for reasons that Van Sickle stated were “unsupported” and “knowingly false.”

“The former chiefs’ unfair and severe retaliation toward the firefighter is behavior that will not be condoned by our Administration,” said Mayor Hayward.

On Aug. 11, 2015, Fire Lt. Edward Deas sent Chief Schmitt a document labeled, “Timeline PUFFA.” In the document, Deas asked the chief to investigate whether Joe Glover was pressuring Fire Lt. Stefon Andrews, the president of PUFFA.

PUFFA is a charitable organization. The African-American members of the Pensacola Fire Department formed the Pensacola United Fire Fighters Association (PUFFA), which incorporated in 2010. In June 2014, the association was granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by the IRS.

According to IRS regulations, an organization may qualify for exemption from federal income tax if it is organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the following purposes: religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, educational, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

They are not unions. PUFFA has no more official standing with the City of Pensacola or the Pensacola Fire Department than Five Flags Rotary or Pensacola Federation of Garden Clubs.

Deas was president of the organization from 2010 until the second half of 2014 when there was a dispute over PUFFA’s financial records. When PUFFA earned tax-exempt status, some members became concerned over Deas and other PUFFA officers not having the proper recordkeeping. Not able to satisfy the membership, Deas ultimately resigned as president and quit paying dues in December 2014.

In his timeline, Deas gave his version of how Deputy Chief Glover, Capt. Derrick Streeter, Capt. Jose Cobbs and Capt. Marquette Oliver mistreated him “so they could control PUFFA and the uses (sic) its name and authority to go after their own agenda.”

Deas offered no evidence that his PUFFA dispute with Glover, Streeter, Cobbs, and Oliver or his resignation as the group’s president impacted his job at PFD. There were no allegations of harassment or intimidation regarding his job.

He also asserted that Glover tried to intimidate the new PUFFA president Stefon Andrews by writing a letter for Andrews to sign asking for a meeting between PUFFA members and the mayor in July 2015. Deas said that Andrews refused to sign it and did not send the letter.

Then Glover sent out a text to approximately a dozen PUFFA members saying he planned to run for president next year. Deas said this was proof that Glover and the older members were intimidating Andrews as president of their organization. Again, he offered no evidence that Andrews’ PFD job had been impacted.

However, he did bring back up his resignation as president of PUFFA. He said the older members had no proof he had mishandled the group’s finances.

“This embarrassment ultimately led to my forced resignation as president,” wrote Deas. “Now the same scenario is continuing with Stefon Andrews being the target since he is the new president and is not going along with the plan. I would ask you to please investigate this matter.”

Though Deas is not a member of the fire union, the collective bargaining agreement gave him an option to use its grievance procedures. However, a veteran fire union leader told Inweekly that he believed Deas’ complaint would not have been seen as a grievance.

“In my opinion, from my years in the leadership of the union, that complaint did not violate an article in the collective-bargaining agreement,” he wrote Inweekly. “In order to file a grievance, an article has to have been violated.”

Why Focus On Glover
If the decision to forgo the hiring panel and to demote Deas were solely Schmitt’s decisions, why did Sisson include Glover in his complaints?

Glover told Inweekly he believed that it was because the mayor did not want him to be in the position of promoting him to Acting Fire Chief if only Chief Schmitt was placed on administrative leave.

On May 26, Councilman Gerald Wingate stated that former City Administrator Colleen Castille told him that Glover would never be fire chief because he had filed discrimination complaints against the City.  Hayward challenged that statement in his May 28 memo.

Glover told Inweekly that the mayor told him on two occasions that he would not make him fire chief unless he dropped his civil rights lawsuit against the city. In 2005, Glover and other African-American firefighters filed a suit claiming racism and discrimination in the fire department over two decades. The suit was dismissed in 2012.

He said that Mayor Hayward invited him to his office right after he became mayor.

“It was kind of an awkward meeting, I must say, because one of the very first things that he said, after he introduced himself, was he thought that I would be the guy that he would want to lead the fire department,” said Glover. “He told me that he wanted me to be the fire chief, but he needed the lawsuit to go away.”

He later was called to a lunch meeting with Mayor Hayward and his Chief of Staff John Asmar at The Happy Pig. Again Glover was told that it wouldn’t look right for him to be the fire chief and at the same time have a pending lawsuit against the city.

After that meeting, several people approached Glover and said that the mayor had told them that there was no way he could ever be the fire chief if he didn’t drop that lawsuit.

In his memo, Mayor Hayward pointed out that Glover was promoted and given raises after his discrimination complaint.  The deputy chief said the mayor had nothing to do with his promotion.

“That was strictly Chief Schmitt’s decision, and the mayor didn’t have anything to do with that,” said Glover. “From my understanding, he wasn’t even pleased with that. His city attorney, Jim Messer, made a comment in a meeting with Chief Schmitt, the mayor, and all the members of his staff present that I shouldn’t have even been the deputy chief.”

For past four months, the media has expected that Mayor Hayward would hold a press conference to discuss the report’s findings and answer questions once the investigation was completed. The News Journal asked for one after the mayor received Van Sickle’s report.  (PNJ, “No transparency, no trust,” May 4)

“Mayor Hayward should take the initiative to hold a public hearing on the investigation’s findings and a press conference that removes the shroud from the last three months by providing candid and specific answers to questions from the press and citizens,” wrote the PNJ editorial board. “If the city’s actions against the Chiefs were justified and necessary, then so be it. But the mayor is obligated to explain why.”

As of May 31, Mayor Hayward has not held a press conference or public hearing on the investigation’s findings.