Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday February 19th 2019

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Outtakes—Breaking His Silence

By Rick Outzen

When he heard about our cover story on the settlement of his lawsuit, former Fire Chief Matt Schmitt agreed to do his first interview since he was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 2, 2016.

For the past three years, as his discrimination case worked its way through federal court, Schmitt has focused on his health. When the ordeal began, he weighed 325. Thanks to an improved diet and exercise, he has dropped 115 pounds.

The fire chief is convinced that the city’s investigation into him and Deputy Chief Joe Glover was a witch hunt. When they were placed on leave, the chiefs thought they had a scheduled meeting with City Administrator Eric Olson. Instead, they were ambushed by Assistant Administrator Keith Wilkins, who told them they were placed on paid leave, had them hand over keys, radios and cell phones and had them escorted out of city hall.

“Joe and I invoked our Firefighter Bill of Rights at that time,” Schmitt told me. “At that moment, they should’ve slid the charges against us across the table, but they hadn’t ginned them up yet and needed nine more days to come upwith them.”

He was completely caught off guard by the vindictiveness of city officials.

“I expected from Mayor Hayward, ‘Hey, Matt, you know, we’ve had a good run. I want to put a new team together. You’re all at-will employees. I just no longer need your services,’” said Schmitt. “But when they came in, I was completely caught flat-footed.”

He continued, “Especially after 36 years of service and being the interim fire chief for six years, I thought I would have gotten a little more respect, but man, their hatred for Joe Glover, and me secondarily, got them to pull out all the stops.”

City officials inflicted even more punishment on Schmitt and Glover after Mayor Hayward fired them on May 10, 2016.

“They invoked a part of the Human Resources manual that says the city has the option not to buy back PTO (personal time off) if an employee is terminated,” said Schmitt. “So, they invoked that.”

Who does Schmitt believe orchestrated the complicated scheme to punish Glover and him? He didn’t hesitate to name Assistant City Attorney Rusty Wells and Dick Barker.

“I’m sorry that it happened the way it did. Those elected officials and appointed officials chose to drag the city, the fire department in general, through something so ridiculous,” said Schmitt. “Yeah, I was the victim. But why would you do that to a community, a department, and employees in general?”

He added, “As far as I’m concerned, the employees have taken a huge hit over the past eight years. And not just me, but all city employees were victimized in the Hayward administration.”