Two days after the two top officials at the Pensacola Fire Department were abruptly placed on administrative leave, it’s still unclear why the two were suspended and when — or if — they might return to work.
On Tuesday, fire chief Matt Schmitt and deputy fire chief Joseph Glover came to City Hall for a previously scheduled meeting with city administrator Eric Olson. Instead of meeting with Olson, though, they were greeted by assistant city administrator Keith Wilkins and human resources manager Tracy Walsh.
Schmitt and Glover were each handed the same letter, on Office of the Mayor letterhead, bearing Wilkins’ signature under the heading, “MEMORADUM.” [sic]
“The City has been made aware of circumstances that require an investigation be completed within the Fire Department,” the letter read. “Effective immediately, you are placed on Administrative Leave until otherwise directed.”
The two veteran firefighters were ordered to hand over their city identification badges, car and building keys, city cell phones, and other city-owned equipment. Because the two had come to city hall in a fire department vehicle, they were told they needed to find their own way home. “If you have personal items you wish to collect from your office, you may contact me and I will arrange for their delivery,” Wilkins wrote.
City spokesman Vernon Stewart confirmed Tuesday that Schmitt and Glover had been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. But what prompted the investigation, who is conducting it, and how long the investigation is expected to last are among the questions that remain unanswered. City officials, including Mayor Ashton Hayward, have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the matter over the past two days.
“I don’t even know what I’m being accused of,” said Glover on Wednesday.
Calls to both mens’ city cell phone numbers on Wednesday confirmed that their numbers have been disconnected, and both men have been removed from the fire department’s website and the staff directory on the city website, replaced by David Allen, the longtime fire marshal who the city announced Tuesday would step in as acting fire chief.
The letter given to Schmitt and Glover included a set of “restrictions,” including a directive not to talk about the investigation with coworkers. “Immediately and until the investigation is completed, you are not to contact or discuss this investigation with any City employee,” the letter read. “Failure to comply with the restrictions outlined in this memorandum may subject you to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
Schmitt had served as the city’s interim fire chief since 2010 and has served as a Pensacola firefighter for more than 35 years. Glover — the highest-ranking African-American in the department — has been a Pensacola firefighter for nearly 30 years. 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.