Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said Wednesday that he will not attend a special city council meeting set for May 26, where council members plan to discuss Hayward’s recent termination of the city’s top two fire department officials.
Hayward fired Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Chief Joseph Glover on May 10 following a nearly three-month-long investigation into their conduct. Some citizens and council members have charged that the investigation, conducted by Pensacola attorney Russell VanSickle, had a predetermined outcome and that the investigation’s findings don’t justify the mayor’s decision to fire the two veteran firemen.
Council members agreed last week to discuss the matter at a special meeting on May 26, despite the fact that the city’s charter gives council members no authority over personnel matters. On Wednesday, Hayward fired back at council members in an “open letter to the citizens.”
Calling his move to fire the chiefs an “irrevocable decision,” Hayward argued that it had been “carefully and thoughtfully made” and that council members were overstepping their authority. “Some Council members have persistently attempted to foster an atmosphere of discord in our City,” Hayward wrote. “Holding a staged rally for the terminated employees is beneath the dignity of the Council and is not a constructive way to discuss anything.”
Hayward said that some council members still haven’t accepted the city charter than was approved by voters in 2009. Under the old council-manager form of government, an unelected city manager hired by the city council oversaw the day-to-day operations of the city government. The new charter moved Pensacola to a mayor-council government in which a so-called “strong mayor” heads an executive branch while the city council serves as the legislative branch of government.
“Some Council members continue to balk at our new form of government that grants the Mayor broad executive control and assigns the Council an important legislative role but not a role in the management of the City,” Hayward wrote. “It is time to accept the change that the voters have endorsed with our new Charter, and I ask the entire Council to work with me to make our already-thriving City even better.”