Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Chaos on the Seventh Floor

By Rick Outzen and Duwayne Escobedo

Something is wrong inside the Mayor’s Office. Since midway through Mayor Ashton Hayward’s first term, turnover has been the norm in city department, which includes the mayor’s inner circle.

The City of Pensacola’s budget details the organizational structure of each city department, including the Mayor’s Office. The positions in that department have turned over an average of three to five times since Hayward was sworn into office in January 2011.

Former employees describe the Mayor’s Office as “dysfunctional” and “ineffective.” Some believe the turmoil and chaos on the seventh floor of Pensacola City Hall, where Hayward’s key staffers work, may have led to his low job approval rating in the 2016 Quality of Life Survey.

For the first time since Hayward took office, more residents believed this year that Escambia County was on the right track (51 percent) than believed the City of Pensacola was headed in the right direction (45 percent), according to the survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling for the Pensacola Young Professionals. The 2016 percentage for Pensacola was the lowest since 2009 when just 30 percent believed the city was on the right track.

Only one out of three people surveyed said the mayor was doing an excellent or good job. His approval rating was cut nearly in half, falling 32-percentage points since the summer of 2015. From 2011-2015, the average percentage of those who felt the mayor was doing a poor job was only 5.8 percent. In 2016, 23 percent gave him a poor rating, a four-fold jump.

Rita Lee, former Executive Administrator to the Mayor’s Office, told Inweekly that lower percentages didn’t surprise her.

“I’m surprised that it took so long,” she said.

“I wanted the city to move forward in the right direction,” said Lee, who resigned in August 2013. “How disappointing that so many tax dollars were spent on lawsuits. The money could have been spent more wisely.”

She added, “I know there are a lot of unhappy taxpayers.”

During his first two years as mayor, the Mayor’s Office was stable. In October 2012, Bill Reynolds began his second year as the City Administrator. Chief of Staff John Asmar, Chief Of Economic Opportunities and Sustainability Clark Merritt, Chief Of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson, Diversity Officer LuTimothy May, and four executive assistants rounded out the mayor’s staff. Tamara Fountain joined his team as a consultant and later was hired as Communications Administrator.

They have all since left the Mayor’s Office.

Starting in 2013, turnover became constant. The Mayor’s Office was reorganized in each subsequent budget year. Many times key leaders either resigned or were fired between when the proposed budget was printed, usually in May, and when Pensacola City Council approved it in September.

Pensacola residents needed a scorecard to keep up with the staff changes on the seventh floor.

The city charter gives the mayor the power to determine the organization of the city government and the power and duties assigned to the various departments. The most important position that he appoints without the approval of the city council is City Administrator.

Hayward has appointed four City Administrators—Bill Reynolds, Colleen Castille, Dick Barker (interim), and Eric Olson. With each new administrator, the mayor shuffled his office staff.

Hayward’s FY 2014 budget proposal had Reynolds as his City Administrator. They organized the Mayor’s Office with Rita Lee, who had been with the mayor since he took office, as Executive Administrator of the Mayor’s Office. Derek Cosson was the mayor’s press secretary.

Before the city council approved the budget, all three were gone. Hayward dismissed Reynolds after a state attorney’s investigation revealed the administrator had released a confidential document. Cosson transferred to Technology Resources. Lee resigned.

In an email to Mayor Hayward, dated Aug. 14, 2013, Lee wrote of her immediate resignation, “This decision stems from the events in the last few days that were unknown to me and never discussed that would change my career and my agreement with the Mayor and the City of Pensacola.”

The following year, Hayward and his new City Administrator Colleen Castille reorganized the Mayor’s Office again, according to the FY 2015 budget proposal. Eric Olson was listed as Initiatives Coordinator. Rebecca McLellan was named Fountain’s assistant.

Then Castille abruptly announced that she was leaving in August 2014. CFO Dick Barker was made the Interim City Administrator. Hayward promoted Olson to Assistant City Administrator, and Fountain was named Chief Operations Officer, all before the FY 2015 budget was approved.

With Barker, Olson and Fountain as his leadership team, Mayor Hayward again reorganized the Mayor’s Office. The FY 2016 budget proposal had Olson as the City Administrator. Vernon Stewart was the new public information officer, freeing up Fountain to focus on her COO role.

Community Outreach Administrator LuTimothy May was still listed in the budget. McLellan had been promoted and transferred to the airport. Chief Of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson was demoted and transferred to Planning Services. Latasha Buchanan was shown as the Constituent Services Administrator with Casey Kelley as her assistant. Mayor Hayward added a new position, Executive Aide to the Mayor, which was filled by Zachary Michael.

Then everything fell apart. Kelley resigned in June just as the budget proposal was being delivered to the city council. May was dismissed on July 6, 2015. The next month Fountain resigned.

For the third time in three years, the mayor reorganized his office. CFO Barker was paid an additional 10 percent to oversee the port, airport and gas utility. Hayward hired Keith Wilkins as his Assistant City Administrator. Former City Attorney Rusty Wells was named Special Assistant to the City Administrator.

Turnover “infected” other city positions. Four individuals have handled his communications: Travis Peterson, Derek Cosson, Tamara Fountain and Vernon Stewart. The mayor created the public records coordinator position in August 2013. The position has been held by three people—Jane Ballard, Maxwell Branham, and Matthew Shaud. The Executive Aide to the Mayor was established last year and has turned over once already.

Few organizations can survive such turnover in its top leadership team. Inweekly made several attempts to interview Mayor Hayward about the turnover in his office. He did not return the phone calls.

Turnover is expensive. Hayward gave Castille and Fountain hefty severance payouts that totaled more than $100,000. Rita Lee, Lutimothy May, and Jane Ballard were also given severance checks for much lesser amounts. Mayor Hayward settled a lawsuit with Bill Reynolds by agreeing to pay out $95,571 to his former administrator and his attorney.

However, the cost to the Pensacola taxpayers is more than severance packages. Kristine Rushing, COO of Beck Partners, told Inweekly that several studies had been done on the costs to replace a current position and recruit new talent.

She said, “For an $8-an-hour employee, the cost is roughly $5,500. With our entry-level positions here in our organization, our cost, at a minimum, is about $10,000-$12,000. For our higher level positions, it can definitely double, if not triple that.”

When asked what does think when she sees a lot of turnover in an organization, Rushing said, “One is the thought process behind bringing on the employees. Does the employee know what their expectations are moving into that position?”

When appearing on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks” in early August, Quint Studer talked about how he has helped health care systems around the country reduce turnover. He said it starts with leadership.

“This sounds crazy, but people always try to get you to fix a symptom,” he said. “Years ago, a huge company out west brought me in to talk about problem employees and turnover. I told the top 17 executives in a room, ‘I’m willing to do it, but we won’t talk about anybody that’s not in this room. If you’ve got a challenge out there, it’s because you’ve got a challenge in here.’”

Studer explained, “When you have a lot of turnover, the first thing you look at is when are people leaving? What areas are they leaving from? Are they leaving early, are they leaving after a set time? Then you look at what leadership changes were there. Were they getting feedback? There are various areas they look at, but you always have to look at leadership because it always starts at the top.”

Inweekly spoke with several former employees who worked in the Mayor’s Office.

Rita Lee started as an Executive Assistant to the Mayor in February 2011. She had worked her entire career in law and government, and her starting salary was $54,995. Lee handled special projects for Mayor Hayward. In April 2013, she was promoted to Executive Administrator and her salary was increased to $70,012.

Lee suddenly resigned four months later.

“I had many reasons for leaving. The restructuring was being done, and it was never discussed with me,” she told Inweekly. “It was dysfunctional. A lot of different things were going on, but that was the icing on the cake.”

She said turnover made the Mayor’s Office ineffective. The office wasn’t run professionally.

Lee said, “To me, he had very qualified individuals in the beginning. Maybe there was a lack of leadership. I don’t know. Maybe he was influenced by people outside the office. It’s just a loss.”

Casey Kelley, Executive Assistant to the Mayor and later Constituent Services assistant, said the Mayor’s Office was “pretty disorganized” and run poorly.

“I’ve never worked like that before or since,” Kelley told Inweekly. “You kind of wondered when the next big thing was going to happen. It was not a great feeling.”

Other employees, who asked to not be quoted, confirmed the office was in constant turmoil with executive assistants not knowing what their job functions would be from day to day or who was going to be let go next.

Kelley said she met with Hayward every day. “He doesn’t have the skills to manage people,” she said. “He relied on other people to do the leadership.”

Her advice to others: “Definitely don’t work in the Mayor’s Office, ever.”

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Mayor’s Office
Organization Charts

FY 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011-Sept. 30, 2012)
*Mayor Hayward’s first budget
Total Positions: 11
Personal Services Actual: $611,661

Mayor Ashton Hayward
City Administrator Bill Reynolds
Chief of Staff John Asmar
Chief Of Economic Opportunities & Sustainability Clark Merritt
Chief Of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson
Executive Assistants (6)

FY 2013 (Oct. 1, 2012-Sept. 30, 2013)
Total Positions: 11
Personal Services Actual: $929,600

Mayor Ashton Hayward
City Administrator Bill Reynolds (*dismissed)
Chief of Staff John Asmar (resigned)
Communications Administrator Tamara Fountain
Chief Of Economic Opportunities & Sustainability Clark Merritt (transferred)
Chief Of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson
Diversity Officer LuTimothy May
Executive Assistants (4)

FY 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013-Sept. 30, 2014)
Total Positions: 9
Personal Services Actual: $1,016,487

Mayor Ashton Hayward
City Administrator Colleen Castille (*dismissed)
Executive Administrator Rita Lee (*resigned)
Communications Administrator Tamara Fountain
Press Secretary Derek Cosson (*transferred)
Chief Of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson
Community Outreach Administrator LuTimothy May
Executive Assistants (2) – City used Landrum, $81,076

FY 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014-Sept. 30, 2015)
Total Positions: 9
Personal Services Actual: $1,115,718

Mayor Ashton Hayward
City Administrator Dick Barker (*interim)
Communications Administrator Tamara Fountain (*promoted)
Communications Assistant Rebecca McLellan (transferred)
Chief Of Neighborhoods Helen Gibson (transferred)
Community Outreach Administrator LuTimothy May
Initiatives Coordinator Eric Olson (*promoted)
Executive Assistants (2) – City used Landrum, $124,591

FY 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015-Sept. 30, 2016)
Total Positions: 8
Personal Services Budget: $987,700

Mayor Ashton Hayward
City Administrator Eric Olson
Chief Operations Officer Tamara Fountain (*resigned)
Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart
Community Outreach Administrator LuTimothy May (*dismissed)
Constituent Services Administrator Latasha Buchanan
Constituent Services Assistant Casey Kelley (*resigned)
Executive Aide to the Mayor Zachary Michael (resigned)
Executive Assistants (0) –Landrum, budget $150,000

FY 2017 (Oct. 1, 2016-Sept. 30, 2017)
Total Positions: 8
Personal Services Budget: $1,039,800

Mayor Ashton Hayward
City Administrator Eric Olson
Special Assistant to City Administrator Rusty Wells
Assistant City Administrator Keith Wilkins
Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart
Constituent Services Administrator Latasha Buchanan
Constituent Services Assistant Laurie Byrne
Executive Aide to the Mayor Ben Ouellette
Executive Assistants (0) –Landrum, budget $120,900

Note:
* Change happened before budget year began.