Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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The Buzz 9/1/16

Time for Prayer Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday at a brief press conference at Pensacola City Hall that the repairs of the much-maligned federal courthouse might be delayed for another year.

He met with the media after touring the building with Chief Federal Judge Casey Rodgers. The courthouse was evacuated last year because it was dangerously infested with mold and posed a health risk to federal employees.

“If you notice me wipe my nose from time to time, it’s because we went in the old courthouse,” said Sen. Nelson.

He explained that the U.S. Senate in April approved spending $30 million to rehabilitate the building. Since then, the House recently voted for the appropriation, but a snag has developed that could delay the work for another year.

“That’s just pure balderdash,” he said. “We will get that administrative hiccup taken care of.”

The senator said that he had learned of the issue earlier this morning when flying to Pensacola.

“I found out about it this morning at 5:30 as I was reading my briefing paper as I was on Silver Airways coming to Pensacola to meet with Judge Rodgers,” he said. “And what it apparently is, it’s kind of a stupid thing.”

He explained that a member of Rep. Ander Crenshaw’s staff has objected to spending any federal funds on the courthouse until its ownership is transferred to the City of Pensacola next July. Crenshaw chairs the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government and has the ability to waive that requirement.

“We need to get this done before the final appropriations bill is passed,” said Nelson. “Hopefully that’s by Oct. 1 because that’s the new fiscal year for our federal government.”

He said, “All you need to do is get reasonable heads together and figure out that you don’t want to wait another 11 months.”

Sen. Nelson said he had a plan if the reasonable approach doesn’t work.

“I suggested to the judge that I would have a prayer session with that particular staff member of the House.”

Nelson was also asked about federal funding to combat the Zika virus. He said that both he and Sen. Marco Rubio had sponsored a bill to provide $1.9 billion for the effort, and the Senate had overwhelmingly voted for it. However, the House version had several riders attached to the appropriation, including supporting the Confederate flag and cutting funding for some Planned Parenthood programs. The Senate rejected the amendments.

Sen. Nelson was optimistic that the House would be more open to funding programs to stop the spread of the Zika virus when Congress reconvenes in early September.

“I’m hopeful that the stories of Zika and the real life problems it creates will push the consciences of some of the House members,” he said.

Disciplinary Differences In 2014, a city department head called Mayor Ashton Hayward names and was found to have hired staff without going through the proper protocol and procedure. How did the city handle those “violations of insubordination?”

Earlier this year, Mayor Hayward placed his fire chief and deputy fire chief on paid administrative leave while the Beggs & Lane attorney Russell Van Sickle investigated them. The allegation that triggered the investigation was Chief Human Resource Officer Ed Sisson complained Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Glover failed to follow “normal hiring protocol for the January 2016 hiring round for new firefighters.”

Also among the other five complaints filed by Sisson was he felt Glover had publicly demeaned him during the Firefighters Annual Awards ceremony.

Mayor Hayward chose not to follow the disciplinary procedures established in the HR manual. Instead, he called for an investigation and later fired the chiefs.

However, two years ago, Mayor Hayward took another approach with Neighborhood Services Director Brian Cooper, even though he was directly impacted by Cooper’s actions.

On Aug. 8, 2014, Sisson sent Cooper a written reprimand that outlined the undesirable behavior Cooper committed. The letter was placed in his personnel file. The reprimand was the results of Cooper’s actions on Aug. 7, 2014, and the discovery that he had hired staff without going through the proper protocol and procedure. According to Sisson’s letter, Cooper had been counseled verbally in past for not following the city’s hiring protocol.

Sisson wrote: “Specially, you were found to have completed the following undesirable behaviors:

•    When speaking to the Mayor you addressed him publicly with a derogatory term

•    After being counseled verbally in the past as to the protocol to follow when filling certain vacancies, you continued to operate outside of the prior discussed parameters.

•    Behavior that is unbecoming of a City Official.”

Mayor Hayward has treated two of his department leaders differently for similar alleged violations.

Cooper insulted the Mayor. Deputy Chief Glover made a remark that Sisson believed demeaned him, without naming him. Cooper got a written reprimand. Glover was put on leave, investigated and fired.

Cooper failed to follow hiring protocol and procedure multiple times. Chief Schmitt decided to forego peer interviews once. Cooper first got verbal counseling, then later a written reprimand. Schmitt and Glover were put on leave, investigated and fired.

In 2015, Cooper and Schmitt requested pay raises. Cooper received a raise. Schmitt’s request was denied.

Schmitt has filed a lawsuit against the City of Pensacola, Hayward, Sisson and City Administrator Eric Olson.

Schmitt Sues In his federal lawsuit, former Pensacola Fire Chief Matt Schmitt stated that he complained to City Administrator Eric Olson on Sept. 3, 2015, that he felt that Chief Human Resources Officer Ed Sisson was racially discriminating against Deputy Chief Joe Glover regarding the deputy chief’s pay.

They met again on Sept. 30. Olson took no action on the complaint and stated that Glover simply needed to move on, according to Schmitt.

On Dec. 4, 2015, Schmitt submitted paperwork to request pay increases for eight PFD employees, including himself. Olson denied Schmitt a raise.

In December, both Schmitt and Glover filed EEOC complaints. On Feb. 2, they were placed on administrative leave. The two men were fired in May.

Schmitt alleged that Hayward, Olson and Sisson (Defendants) retaliated against him and acted with “malice and reckless disregard” toward him:

The decision by the City and the other Defendants to retaliate against Plaintiff by refusing a pay raise, subjecting him to a frivolous investigation, placing him on administrative leave, changing the appeals process in the HR Manual, and ultimately terminating his employment, amount to violations of Title VII and § 1981.

Defendants’ retaliatory conduct against Plaintiff has caused him to suffer emotional distress, humiliation, and embarrassment.

•    Defendants have acted with malice and reckless disregard toward the Plaintiff and his federally protected rights.

Schmitt asks the Court to:

•    Issue a declaratory judgment that the employment policies, practices, procedures, conditions and customs of Defendants violate the rights of Plaintiff …

•    Grant Plaintiff a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants, its agents, successors, employees, attorneys, and those acting in concert with Defendants …

•    Enter an Order requiring Defendants to make Plaintiff whole by reinstating him into the position he would have occupied in the absence of retaliation or awarding him front pay, awarding him back pay (plus interest), nominal damages, lost seniority, benefits, loss of pension, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and post-judgment interest.

•    Plaintiff further prays for such other relief and benefits as the cause of justice may require, including, but not limited to, an award of costs, attorneys’ fees, and expenses.

Eat with the Seasons The Palafox Farmers Market is partnering with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program (FNP), the SNAP-Ed implementing agency in Florida, and Florida Organic Growers’ Fresh Access Bucks (FAB) program to conduct special cooking demonstrations from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3.

“Eat with the Seasons,” features UF/IFAS Chef David Bearl, American Culinary Federation-certified chef for more than 30 years. He will demonstrate seasonal, healthy and easy to prepare market to table recipes using Florida-grown produce right from the market.

The Palafox Farmers Market is located at the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on N. Palafox St. between Wright St. and Garden St. in Downtown Pensacola. The market is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. year round.

The Eat with the Seasons cooking demonstrations are designed to enable participants to taste new items and learn new, healthy cooking methods featuring seasonal, Florida-grown produce, and easy and affordable recipes.

The Fresh Access Bucks (FAB) program is a statewide incentive designed to encourage Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) recipients to redeem their benefits at farmers markets to purchase fresh, healthy foods directly from Florida farmers. At Palafox Market, Florida Organic Growers matches what a SNAP cardholder spends with FREE Fresh Access Bucks – up to $20, every market day. Customers can use them right away or later on to buy Florida-grown fruits and vegetables.

For more information, please visit the Palafox Farmers Market‘s website at palafoxmarket.com.