Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday February 20th 2019

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Outtakes—Vindictive Politics

By Rick Outzen

Last week, Inweekly broke the news that former Mayor Ashton Hayward last October settled the discrimination lawsuits filed by Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Glover, whom he fired in May 2016, for $575,000.

We don’t have a good explanation for why the Hayward administration placed the chiefs on paid administrative leave and spent over $68,000 to investigate allegations against them after they filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints. What we do know is the city’s insurance carrier didn’t believe the city would prevail in federal court, or at the very least didn’t want to risk losing.

Two of the men involved in the decision to go after the chiefs are gone—Hayward and his administrator, Eric Olson. However, four are still working at city hall and have received pay raises since the 2016 debacle—CFO Dick Barker, Assistant City Attorney Rusty Wells, Assistant Administrator Keith Wilkins and Chief Human Resources Officer Edward Sisson.

We don’t know what roles these men played in the costly decision to go after Schmitt and Glover because Hayward, Olson and Wilkins couldn’t remember what happened in the meeting when questioned. Sisson claimed he wasn’t there, but attorney Russell Van Sickle’s notes stated he was.

The addendum to the settlement agreement has a sentence that stipulated the chiefs would never seek employment with the city again, and if they did, their applications would not be considered. I asked Mayor Grover Robinson if he thought the sentence seemed vindictive.

“It seems very vindictive,” he said.

I pointed out that it appeared members of the city administration had a vendetta against the black firefighters, which included Glover, who filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city in 2005, and the 2016 investigation seemed to be in retaliation for the EEOC complaints that also alleged discrimination.

“What I’m telling you is there is a lot of vindictive stuff that happened for the last eight years,” Robinson said. “I think we know what has happened. We are trying to move forward and provide fair assessment and evaluation of everything going forward.”

He is trying to determine whether he has “bad people” in city hall or “they were put into a bad system that did a lot of vindictive stuff.” He added. “My point is, if we have vindictive people that put money in to solve scores and settle things, then we are going to have vindictive communities, and that’s not what we need.”

Are city employees safe if they file an EEOC complaint? Robinson replied, “Absolutely.”

Great answer, but the public deserves an explanation as to why the Hayward administration sought to ruin Schmitt and Glover. Maybe the answer will come out as Mayor Robinson investigates further.