Former Pensacola Fire Chief Matt Schmitt “repeatedly violated city policy” in connection with monetary donations received by the fire department, according to a report released by Mayor Ashton Hayward’s office yesterday.
The report, prepared by Pensacola attorney Russell VanSickle, chronicles a three-month investigation that ended Tuesday with Hayward’s decision to fire both Schmitt and Deputy Chief Joseph Glover. In a statement, Hayward cited a “loss of confidence” in the men’s ability to lead the department.
Amid the litany of mostly minor charges and interdepartmental squabbles detailed by the report, VanSickle asserted that Schmitt mishandled donations intended for the department’s Child Passenger Safety Car Seat Program, which was designed to assist residents by providing and installing child car seats and free of charge. Specifically, VanSickle says that donations received for the program were stored — indefinitely — in a safe to which only Schmitt and Glover had access, instead of deposited in a city account.
When the safe was opened, $1,546.68 in cash was found, along with a number of uncashed checks dating back to 2012. According to the report, Schmitt referred any questions about the money to David Allen — then fire marshal and the man appointed to replace Schmitt as fire chief — calling it “Allen’s program” and saying that he’d only acted as a “conduit” to place the money in the safe.
Other fire officials disagreed with Schmitt’s characterization, though, according to the report. Captain Gary Creel, who initiated the car seat program, told VanSickle that he let his certification for the program lapse in January 2016 because of his discomfort with how Schmitt was controlling the program. Both Creel and Allen said that Schmitt controlled the deposit and disbursement of funds for the program, and both men cited numerous instances in which Schmitt denied requests to use the funds, VanSickle wrote. Fire Department administrative employee Melinda Grogan also told VanSickle she was uncomfortable with how the cash and checks were simply being placed in the safe.
“Schmitt repeatedly violated City policy and principles of common sense by accepting donations from the public and then simply stashing them, checks or cash, into the safe,” VanSickle wrote. “His failure to comprehend that when the public eventually learned of this misconduct that it could unnecessarily jeopardize the public’s confidence in the Fire Department and the confidence in the child car seat program demonstrated poor judgement on his part.”
Once discovered, the donated funds — with the exception of the stale checks — were deposited into the appropriate city account, the report noted.
Schmitt did not return a call requesting comment on Tuesday.