Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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City Hall: Culture of Intimidation?

By Rick Outzen

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward fired off a memo challenging comments by City Council President Charles Bare, Councilwoman Sherri Myers and Councilman Gerald Wingate at their special meeting concerning his investigation and termination of former Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Glover.

Myers said she believes a culture of intimidation exists at City Hall and that she has “witnessed abuse of many employees.” Mayor Hayward challenged her veracity and questioned why the councilwoman had not come forward with details of the abuse.

Through a public record request, Inweekly received the personnel folder of Chief Human Resources Officer Ed Sisson. The folder showed that Hayward’s HR chief took pride in his ability to remove individuals from the city and was given a lofty title and 13-percent pay raise for his efforts.

In February 2015, when City of Pensacola HR administrator Ed Sisson wanted to have his job title changed to “Chief Human Resources Officer” and get a pay raise, he didn’t have an annual job performance evaluation with Mayor Ashton Hayward or Interim City Administrator Dick Barker to make his case. No one in the Hayward administration has been given an annual job performance evaluation since 2012.

Instead, Sisson wrote his own annual review and sent it to Chief Operations Officer Tamara Fountain. In his review, Sisson listed 16 accomplishments in his first year working for the City of Pensacola. Among them was: “Successfully removed, and/or helped to remove, individuals from our organization that did not add value (at all levels).”

Myers believes that one of Sisson’s “successful removals” was former Council Executive Lila Cox. In June 2014, Mayor Hayward abruptly had Cox escorted out of City Hall. He announced that she was terminated, and former City Attorney Rusty Wells was taking her place.

“I think the Lila Cox firing was just horrendous, and it just illustrates the type of firing practices that have been going on in this administration,” she told Inweekly. “Lila Cox had no idea she was going to be terminated. She was doing a fabulous job for the city council, and we loved Lila Cox.”

She said, “We had no idea that she was going to be terminated. I had seen her just really, just three or four minutes before she went upstairs from the first floor up to her office. We had had a very cordial conversation at the elevator. She was very happy, very upbeat and accomplishing a lot.”

According to Myers, Cox went up to her office and was told to get her purse and personal belongings and was escorted out of the building. The city council refused to accept Wells as the new council executive and placed a charter amendment on the November 2014 ballot granting them the power to hire their staff. City voters passed the amendment, 10,575 to 9,865, over the mayor’s objection.

Other notable “removals” in 2014 include CMPA Executive Director Ed Spears, City planner Elizabeth Schrey and City Administrator Colleen Castille. Sisson’s complaints were the catalyst of the investigation into the fire chiefs.

Missing from Sisson’s personnel folder was a job application or resume. There were no notes on his job interview or who actually made the recommendation to Mayor Hayward to hire him as the Human Resource Administrator. There is no documentation regarding his prior jobs or reference checks with his previous bosses.

The job offer was dated Jan. 10, 2014 and signed by Castille. She wrote, “You’ll be asked to sign a contractual agreement with Mayor Hayward, who has approved your starting salary at $87,500 annually, paid bi-weekly.”

Not having a job application violates the City of Pensacola Human Resource Manual: “Applications are required for all positions filled by a recruitment process and must be filed with Human Resources by the announced application deadline. Applications collect details regarding experience, training, education, and other pertinent information. Required documentation may be required with the application that provides proof of education, certification, veteran preference, etc. Applicants must attest to the truthfulness of all statements contained in the application; false statements or misrepresentation is cause for denying employment or for discharge from city employment at any time after being employed.”

The manual also states, “Prior to employment or appointment to a position, appropriate background and reference checks will be completed in accordance with city policy.”

Last summer, Chief Operations Officer Tamara Fountain resigned after Mayor Hayward went on a local television to tout how her education qualified her for the COO position. The mayor said about Fountain, “She’s very qualified having an undergrad at Florida State and an MBA at the University of West Florida, so she understands government.”

Inweekly and other media discovered that she had no job application or resume in her folder. She had taken courses at FSU, but didn’t graduate. She later received an undergraduate degree from the University of West Florida, not a Masters. Fountain eventually gave the media a resume that listed her accomplishments and duties while having worked for the city, but gave no prior work experience or references. After a two-week vacation, she announced her resignation.

Sisson replaced Sherrer Kuchera, who served as the city’s HR Administrator for 25 years and as assistant HR Administrator for 17 years before then.

When Escambia County replaced its retiring HR administrator in 2012, a six-member selection committee reviewed more than 70 applicants. They chose Thomas Turner, who worked as the Human Resource Director for the City of Des Moines for 14 years, from 1997 to 2011. He also had served as Vice President of Human Resources and Human Resources Director for several private sector organizations representing fields as diverse as finance, healthcare and an electric/natural gas utility.

Turner has a law degree with honors from Drake University Law School. His starting salary was $92,000 and has since increased to $105,577. He manages Human Resources for 1,727 county employees.

Before being hired by Mayor Hayward, Sisson had never been an HR Director or Assistant HR Director in the public or private sector. He had spent two years as a HR analyst with the Hillsborough County Civil Service Office, from Dec. 2011–Jan. 2014. From Oct. 2002-Oct. 2011, he worked with the City of Jacksonville starting as HR Analyst and ending as Operations Analyst. Sisson has a Bachelor’s degree and did a semester or two on a Masters while he lived in Jacksonville.

Reporter Duwayne Escobedo spoke with Dane Petersen, Director of HR in Hillsborough County. He confirmed Sisson worked just over two years with the Hillsborough County Civil Service Office as a Chief Human Resource Analyst. His main duties there were taking job classifications, putting a salary range to the positions and helping write the job duties. He was paid $67,496 there.

Petersen said Sisson’s job was “job duties and pay raises. It was confined to that.”

Before working for Hillsborough County, Sisson worked for the City of Jacksonville. His final yearly salary as an Operations Analyst was $53,571.60.

Mayor Hayward gave Sisson a starting salary of $87,484.80 – $20K more than Hillsborough was paying him—only $4,516 less than the starting pay for the more experienced Turner. According to FY 2016 budget, Sisson manages HR for 770 employees —nearly a thousand fewer individuals than Turner does for Escambia County.

In his 2015, Sisson wrote, “I believe my actions and initiatives also deliver at a service level above and beyond recent predecessors that served in my capacity as I seek not just to achieve excellent operations on a day-by-day basis but look to a strategic plan for tomorrow.”

Mayor Hayward approved Sisson’s new job title and the $12,210 pay increase in two backdated memos. Sisson signed his own PF-501 Recommendation For Personnel Action that was also backdated to Feb. 2, 2015.