After an investigation that stretched on for nearly three months, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s office announced this afternoon that Hayward had fired the top two officials at the Pensacola Fire Department.
Fire chief Matt Schmitt and deputy chief Joseph Glover were placed on paid administrative leave back on February 2. In a statement released Tuesday, Hayward’s office said that the decision was made “due to a loss of confidence in their ability to lead the Pensacola Fire Department.”
“These are never easy decisions to make but I have the responsibility to ensure that the men and women of the Fire Department have leaders that can bring out the best in them and in the department,” said Hayward. “I believe that my decision is a step in that direction.”
Investigation concerned management practices
Shortly after placing Schmitt and Glover on administrative leave, Hayward’s office tapped Pensacola attorney Russell VanSickle to lead an investigation into the two men, but city officials have been tight-lipped about the details. Hayward’s office revealed Tuesday that the investigation centered on “the facts and circumstances surrounding fire department management practices.”
A 132-page report, compiled by VanSickle after interviewing Schmitt, Glover, and other fire department officials, was released Tuesday and is available in full below.
A large portion of the report focuses on the department’s hiring practices under Schmitt and Glover’s management. “I find that neither Schmitt nor Glover was attempting to manipulate the hiring process to include or exclude any particular applicant,” wrote VanSickle. “However, Schmitt and Glover believed incorrectly they were capable of handling the hiring process without an interview panel and without any guidance from HR. They both used poor judgment to conduct the hiring process in a manner they both agreed had not been done before.”
“Additionally, their failure to properly conduct this particular hiring round coincides in timing with a disturbing level of animosity each showed toward HR, which is evidence that they intentionally ignored the proper process under the mistaken belief that they knew better than anyone else how to approach a hiring round for new firefighters,” VanSickle continued.
Report also references dispute over demotion
VanSickle’s report also references a dispute between Schmitt and Glover and the city’s Human Resources department over Glover’s attempted demotion of Fire Captain Edward Deas, about which The Pulse reported in February.
“Schmitt and Glover reprimanded Deas for knowingly false reasons, including a non-existent chain of command violation for using Section H-3 [of the city’s Human Resources Manual], and then told him his corrective action for the future would be to make a complaint using Section H-3,” wrote VanSickle. “This is beyond ridiculous.”
“Schmitt and Glover’s ire concerning the overturning of the demotion by [City Administrator Eric] Olson and Sisson is unjustified,” VanSickle added. “Olson and Sisson were overly deferential to Schmitt and Glover’s judgment. Although they obviously realized that demotion was too strong a disciplinary action, they put too much trust in Schmitt and Glover that there was sufficient documentation to justify a written reprimand. Their trust in Schmitt and Glover was misplaced. There was no justification for the demotion, and, similarly, there was no justification for the written reprimand.”
Issues tied to animosity between chiefs and City Hall, report says
Deputy Chief Joseph Glover in particular has had an often strained relationship with City Hall. Glover, along with three other African-American firefighters, sued the city in 2005 alleging a hostile work environment in which coworkers “regularly used racial slurs.” A federal judge ruled in favor of the city, a decision which was affirmed on appeal.
More recently, Glover took issues with his pay as Deputy Chief, which he argued was around $5,000 less than that of his three predecessors in the position, two of whom were white males and one of whom was a Native American male. According to the report, Glover also argued that his reduced pay was in retaliation for his past litigation against the city, a charge which the report denied, noting that Glover’s pay increased by 22.3% since September 2011. Glover’s annual salary was $85,758 at the time of his termination Tuesday.
“Under these facts, I find no support for the claim that either Glover’s race, or retaliation against Glover for filing a lawsuit or charges of discrimination, was a motivating factor in his pay,” wrote VanSickle.
Both Schmitt and Glover later filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints over pay issues. City Administrator Eric Olson told NewsRadio 1620 in February that the investigation was connected to the EEOC complaints, though Mayor Hayward told the station in a subsequent interview that it wasn’t and that Olson had “misspoke.”
Hayward taps Allen to lead department
Hayward has appointed David Allen, who has served as interim chief since February 2, to fill the position of Fire Chief. Allen has served with the department for 28 years. Hayward said that he would ask the city council to confirm Allen’s appointment at their June 16 meeting.
Neither Schmitt nor Glover immediately responded to requests for comment Tuesday. Captain Nathan Edler, president of the firefighters’ union, said that he would hold any comment until after a union meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening.