Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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More Payouts at City Hall

By Rick Outzen

According to public records released last week, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward cut checks for over $95,000 to get his former city administrator to dismiss his lawsuit against the City.

The Pensacola City Council did not approve the settlement agreement. In fact, they were never notified that a settlement had been reached nearly a year ago.

The settlement was not in Reynolds’ personnel file or filed with the Clerk of Court when the former administrator withdrew his lawsuit against the City of Pensacola. Inweekly discovered the settlement agreement after the city released the case file on the lawsuit.

On July 8, 2013, Mayor Ashton Hayward announced his decision to terminate City Administrator Bill Reynolds from his position with the city.

“Last week, I received the disappointing news from the State Attorney’s Office that Bill Reynolds chose to leak a confidential employee complaint,” said the mayor. “The wellbeing of the City’s hardworking employees is one of my top priorities. Mr. Reynolds’ actions violated this sacred responsibility. This is unacceptable to me.”

The State Attorney’s Office had investigated how an employee’s allegations against former Chief of Staff John Asmar, Reynolds’ political rival, had been leaked to former Pensacola Council President Maren DeWeese.  After DeWeese published the allegations, Mayor Hayward put Reynolds in charge of the investigation of the leak, and the city administrator promised the council he would find and punish the source. The mayor hired the Allen, Norton & Blue law firm to help with the investigation. After three months of searching office computers and desks and questioning city employees, the source was not discovered.

In June 2013, DeWeese told the State Attorney’s Office that Reynolds gave her the complaint, unsolicited, at the World of Beer on March 5, 2013. Reynolds avoided criminal prosecution because the employee failed to ask the city to keep her allegations confidential.  By the time the employee asked for confidentiality on March 7, 2013, Reynolds had already given DeWeese the documents, and they had been published on her blog.

The State Attorney’s Office concluded: “Based upon our review, we have determined that the release of the discrimination complaint does not rise to the level of a criminal violation. All criminal statutes are to be strictly construed in favor of the defendant. In applying that standard, we have determined that at the time the document was released it was exempt and not confidential. Therefore, the release of the complaint, while under the circumstances as described inappropriate, does not constitute a crime.”

When he was fired, Reynolds issued a statement that he was “absolutely wrong” to release the documents. Later when he applied for the Escambia County administrator position in 2014, Reynolds told the commissioners that he agreed with the mayor’s decision.

When Commissioner Grover Robinson asked about his relationship with city staff, Reynolds said, “I certainly don’t hold any animosity against the City of Pensacola. The City of Pensacola and the mayor did exactly what they should have done.”

After Board of County Commissioner decided to hire Jack Brown, Reynolds filed a lawsuit against the city. In his complaint, Reynolds asserted that he was terminated without cause and that he was not fired for misconduct as defined in his employment agreement.

Many considered the case a “slam dunk” for the City. They felt Reynolds was fired for cause—betraying the trust of the mayor, city employees and the public—and therefore wasn’t entitled to severance or the 500 hours of accrued leave the mayor had put in his contract.

On Aug. 21, 2015, Reynolds’ scheduled a deposition with Mayor Hayward. It was rescheduled for Oct. 13, 2015. However, the city settled with Reynolds two weeks before the deposition was to be taken.

In the settlement agreement, Mayor Hayward denied all the claims made by Reynolds. He entered into the agreement to avoid further cost of litigation and to “seek to resolve all matters in controversy, disputes and causes of action between them in an amicable way.”  Reynolds agreed that he was “receiving consideration to which he would otherwise not be entitled absent entry into this agreement.”

CFO Dick Barker distributed two checks totaling $95,571—one to Reynolds for $81,113, the other to his attorney, Odom & Barlow P.A., for $14,458. According to the agreement, Reynolds’ check constituted payment for “accrued leave and severance pay under the terms of his employment agreement.” The check to the law firm covered “any and all attorneys’ fees owed in relation to this matter.”

Reynolds voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit in late October 2015. Mayor Hayward, City Administrator Eric Olson, City Attorney Lysia Bowling and CFO Dick Barker each failed to report the settlement and disbursements to the City Council and taxpayers.

The Reynolds settlement agreement came one month after Hayward had agreed to pay his former COO Tamara Fountain $54,002 upon the “mutual termination” of her employment. The payout to Reynolds and his attorney was agreed upon one year after the mayor had given his other former administrator, Colleen Castille, $50,000 to leave the city.

Over 12 months, Mayor Hayward paid out $199,573, none of which was ever mentioned to the taxpayers who footed the bill. Legal fees fighting the Reynolds lawsuit for 16 months and the payments made to the Florida Retirement System for each put the total cost to the taxpayers close to a quarter of a million dollars.

After Mayor Hayward has refused to be interviewed, Inweekly sent him questions on Reynolds’ settlement asking for written replies. Those questions have gone unanswered.

In a written statement to the News Journal, the mayor said that the settlement of this case was within the authority of the mayor pursuant to the city code and city charter. Inweekly has requested for him to cite the sections of the city code and charter that he was referencing.

Since leaving Escambia County, Bill Reynolds has been hired as the city manager for the City of Shakopee, Minn. He started work on June 15, 2015.  His starting salary was $140,000.