Public discussion by Pensacola City Council members about the firing this month of the city’s top two fire department officials could put city taxpayers at risk, according to a senior city official.
Mayor Ashton Hayward terminated the employment of Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Chief Joseph Glover on May 10 following a three-month investigation into their leadership of the fire department. The investigation, conducted by Pensacola attorney Russell VanSickle, generated a 132-page report which detailed ongoing interdepartmental strife between Schmitt and Glover and the city’s human resources office.
Under Pensacola’s mayor-council form of government, the city council has no power to reverse the mayor’s decision, but council members nonetheless plan to meet in a special session Thursday to discuss the terminations. Hayward said last week that he would not attend the meeting, calling it “beneath the dignity of the council” and arguing that such a meeting isn’t constructive.
Now the city’s chief financial officer says that such a discussion could open the city up to possible liabilities. In a memorandum to Hayward and city council members sent Monday, CFO Dick Barker cautions that a public discussion of such personnel issues could violate the city’s insurance policy and place the city at a disadvantage should Schmitt or Glover take legal action. “Should a breach of the [policy’s] provisions occur, this could result in the insurer declining coverage, which would put the City of Pensacola’s taxpayers at risk for any claims that may arise,” wrote Barker.
“In my thirty-five year career with the City of Pensacola, I do not recall any public meeting held to discuss employees dismissed by a city manager or mayor,” added Barker. “Certainly, from a risk management perspective, it would be best to maintain the past practice of not publicly discussing employee related matters.”