The top two officials at the Pensacola Fire Department have been on paid administrative leave for six weeks now amid a mysterious investigation ordered by Mayor Ashton Hayward’s office.
The story is beyond strange: two distinguished career firefighters, summoned to the seventh floor of City Hall, asked to turn over their badges and keys, and told without explanation that they were being placed on administrative leave indefinitely. Their city phones were quickly disconnected and any mention of either man was removed from the city’s website.
To say that the fire chiefs’ treatment is unprecedented would be an understatement.
Strangest of all, though, is the wall of silence which Mayor Hayward’s office has erected since Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Chief Joseph Glover were placed on leave on February 2. Hayward and his top deputies have repeatedly refused to answer questions about why the men were suspended, what the investigation is investigating, or even how long the investigation is expected to take. On February 11, city administrator Eric Olson forbade city employees from speaking about the matter.
Asked for an update this week, city officials would only say that they “anticipate the investigation to be complete soon.”
The lack of answers coming from the mayor’s office has left citizens and the press trying to put the pieces together on their own. The revelation that Schmitt and Glover had filed equal employment complaints against the city shortly before they were placed on leave raises more questions than it does answers. Were the two men suspended in retaliation? Surely it’s not standard practice to place employees on administrative leave after they file such complaints.
We’ve also learned that Schmitt and Glover were both involved in a 2015 employee dispute involving a lieutenant in the fire department. The lieutenant, who had an issue with Glover, was demoted by Schmitt — an action that was overturned in December by Edward Sisson, the head of the city’s human resources department. There’s no evidence that the dispute is connected to city hall’s decision to place Schmitt and Glover on leave, but the timing is interesting, to say the least.
The bottom line is that City Hall’s continued silence on this issue serves only to undermine citizens’ confidence in their fire department, in the city’s management, and in their mayor. We understand the need for discretion when dealing with personnel issues, but citizens have a right to know what’s going on in their government, and Mayor Hayward has a responsibility to tell them.
After a month and a half, it’s time for Hayward to stand up, take ownership of the issue, and give us some answers.