Public records recently released by the City of Pensacola show that its Chief Human Resources Officer Ed Sisson violated the grievance process established by the collective bargaining agreement and the PFD chain of command that has been in place for over 200 years.
The documents indicate that most recent changes to the city’s HR Policy Manual may have been done to justify Sisson’s actions and make it more difficult for the fire chiefs to appeal any actions taken against them.
In August 2015, Fire Lieutenant Edward Deas named Deputy Fire Joe Glover in a complaint he filed with Fire Chief Matt Schmitt. The complaint involved Glover and others voting him out as president of the black firefighters’ fraternal organization, Pensacola United Fire Fighters Association (PUFFA), in October 2014.
Following the city’s Fire Department policy manual, Schmitt reviewed the complaint and ruled on Sept. 15, 2015, that Deas had used the fire department and the City as a means to retaliate for what he perceived to be unfair treatment on an external issue, meaning PUFFA.
Because of what he deemed as the “malicious” acts of the Lieutenant against his superiors, the fire chief demoted Deas to professional firefighter and reduced his pay by 10 percent.
Deas’ personnel file had his complaint and the proper forms signed by Schmitt and Deas: PF-501 and PF803CB.
Fire lieutenants fall under the collective bargaining agreement that was approved in December 2014.
The acknowledgement of the demotion signed by Deas stated:
“Because you are a member of a collective bargaining unit, if you choose to appeal or grieve this disciplinary action, your grievance and/or appellate process must follow the terms of the bargaining agreement. Unless an appeal or grievance is properly made, this disciplinary action stands confirmed without any further action.”
However, there are no records that Deas followed the union grievance process. Instead, Sisson did his own investigation without notifying the fire chief.
The Chief Human Resources Officer overturned the demotion in December, even though neither the city’s HR manual, Fire Department policy manual, nor the collective bargaining agreement gave him the authority to do so.
The Pensacola Police and Fire Departments are para-military organizations that have firmly established chains of command. The missions are to serve, protect and save lives. The chain of command and discipline are essential to accomplishing their missions.
Sisson’s inference broke the PFD chain of command.
Fire Chief Schmitt responded with a written reprimand of his firefighter, dated Dec. 18, 2015, that was placed in Deas’ file.
There are no notes in the firefighter’s personnel file on the investigation conducted by Sisson. No communications with City Administrator Eric Olson or Mayor Ashton Hayward giving him the authorization to overturn the fire chief.
However, ten days later, Sisson sent his HR manager a change to the HR manual. It was to one sentence in the introduction (change in bold): “Updates will be made to the electronic document located on the Human Resource Office’s Internal and External websites.”
The change allowed Sisson to make further changes without sending written notification to the department heads and city employees. Again there are no records the City Administrator Eric Olson or Mayor Ashton Hayward approved the new policy, or that city staff knew Sisson was making the change.
City emails reflect the changes to the Appeals Process were done by Sisson on Jan. 8. The changes placed Sisson in the disciplinary process and made the City Administrator the final decision-maker on any appeals. It also abolished the independent personnel board that was to review all appeals, under the old manual. Sisson and Olson would now be in charge of any appeals made by the fire chiefs of any actions taken against them.
On Monday, Jan.11, his HR manager replied to Sisson, “The changes have been added and posted.”
However, the new HR manual was not uploaded to the city’s website. No emails were released to Inweekly that verifies all directors were ever notified of the change. The paper was not given any emails or other documents that show approvals from Olson, City Attorney Lysia Bowling and Mayor Hayward of the revision.
The HR manual with the Appeal Process changed was not uploaded until after 2 pm on Feb. 2—four hours after the two chiefs were placed on administrative leave.