Last week, Rob Larkin, Esq., a Tallahassee attorney handling the contract negotiations between the city of Pensacola and local police union, said a city councilman told him over the summer that he could deliver the union if city administration fired the mayor’s chief of staff.
“That is exactly what he said to me,” Larkin said Friday.
At the time that the attorney said Councilman Larry B. Johnson made such an offer—an accusation the councilman has denied—the police union took a no confidence vote in Chief of Staff John Asmar, a move city administration termed as a negotiating tactic. Mayor Ashton Hayward released a statement in response in which he said he hoped negotiations could continue without “further, interference from third parties.”
When asked in July what the “third party” reference meant, city officials directed questions to Larkin. The attorney did not elaborate at that time.
“You know, there are a lot of—how can I say this—a lot of influences in negotiations,” the attorney said this summer. “I can’t identify who I’ve spoken to or who said what to me because of attorney-client privilege.”
Last week, the account of Johnson’s offer was attributed to Larkin in a Pensacola News Journal article. The article pertained to the Fraternal Order of Police’s recent complaint against Mayor Hayward, the operational specifics of downtown’s Gallery Night events and also the contract discussions between the city and police.
“The News Journal asked me a specific person,” Larkin said, explaining why he was divulging the information about Johnson now.
The attorney connected the union negotiations—which are now at an impasse—with the recent accusations by the union that Hayward misused his position and intimidated officers as they were opening Gallery Night streets to vehicular traffic three hours earlier than on prior occasions due to funding issues. The union has requested an investigation of the mayor by the Pensacola City Council.
“That’s what I guess is bringing all this to a head,” Larkin said. “It’s the city’s position that they are related.”
Though the union has maintained that its concerns regarding Hayward involve a “pattern” of disrespect, the city’s attorney believes the Gallery Night incident is being used as a negotiating tactic.
“If the Gallery Night had never happened, would we have seen something else from the union?” he asked. “Yeah, I think undoubtedly.”
As for the decision to identify Johnson as offering the union in exchange for Asmar, the attorney said he didn’t do so in July because “we were trying to determine what was going on.”
“I wasn’t trying to hide the ball,” Larkin said, “but at the time I don’t know if the situation was what it was today.”
Currently, the city and the police union are at an impasse in negotiations. A special magistrate—which Larkin described as a “disinterested third party”—will issue a recommendation sometime in the coming months.
“What kind of recommendation am I expecting? I really don’t know,” Larkin said, reiterating the city’s bottom line. “They’re looking to make a policy change going forward, they want to get out of the pension business.”