Attorney clarifies conclusion regarding demise of Independent Personnel Board

Attorney Russell Van Sickle clarified that the conclusion that that Mayor Hayward was not bound to create the Independent Personnel Board, which we published in our June 2 “Buzz” column, had been incorrectly attributed to him.

The Beggs & Lane attorney spent three months investigating Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Glover. His 132-page report and hundreds of pages of supporting documentation have been placed on the city’s website. Inweekly incorrectly attributed conclusions in an exhibit to Van Sickle.

Van Sickle told Inweekly on Friday afternoon Exhibit XVII timeline and analysis was provided him by the City of Pensacola. This unintentional error was ours. However, the City has yet to hold a press conference or public meeting to explain the report. XVII_Timeline was unsigned and didsn’t state the source.

Van Sickle wrote:

The “Buzz” column published in the June 2, 2016, edition of the “inweekly,” identified as Volume 17, Number 23, attributed a quote to me that was not accurate. As stated in the April 29, 2016, Investigative Report on page 127, my investigation did not address the decision to change the disciplinary appeal process.

The particular issue I was tasked with addressing was Mr. Glover’s concern that the disciplinary appeal process was changed in reaction to his being placed on administrative leave in February 2016. Putting aside the point that paid administrative leave pending the investigation was not a disciplinary action subject to the disciplinary appeal process, the “Track Changes” word processor documentation provided to me by the City demonstrated that the change to the process was initiated in November 2015, which was before Mr. Glover was placed on paid administrative leave in February 2016, before Mr. Glover’s December 30, 2015, EEOC charge, before the demotion decision against Mr. Deas was overturned in December 2015, and before the deviation from the hiring practices in January 2016. The change to the disciplinary appeals process was not prompted by events related to Mr. Glover, and there was no need to interview former employees Ms. Kuchera or Mr. Asmar on this issue because they were not even employed with the City during the time at issue.

The quoted passage contained in the “Buzz” column was a partial sentence pulled from a written analysis that I did not write. As I stated in the Investigative Report on page 127 when referencing the exhibit from which you pulled the partial sentence for the quote, the “City provided an analysis and timeline of the decision to remove the previously existing disciplinary process for my informational purposes.” My use of the information was limited to determining whether the changes were prompted by Mr. Glover being placed on paid administrative leave.

Please make the necessary retraction to correct the error.

Russell F. Van Sickle
Board Certified Labor and Employment Attorney
Beggs & Lane, RLLP

We asked Van Sickle for the author of Exhibit XVII so that we could attribute to the appropriate party. While waiting for his reply, we corrected the article and plan to publish the correction in the June 9 issue:

Van Sickle’s report did not address the change in the appeal process. City officials provided an analysis and timeline of the decision to remove the previously existing disciplinary process that Van Sickle included for informational purposes.

The analysis concluded, “The intentions conveyed by the City Administration to the local legislative delegation during the process of repealing the Civil Service Special Act were not executed and should not be interpreted to mean the Mayor would appoint an independent board and delegate all of his Charter authority regarding employment to that board.” (See note)

The analysis didn’t state who made that conclusion.

Missing from the city’s analysis were any interviews with Kuchera or former Chief of Staff John Asmar, who worked on the repeal of the Civil Service Act with the city employees and lawmakers. There was no mention that city employees were told four years ago that they would have an independent appeal board so they would support the Civil Service repeal effort. There also was no explanation for why the Independent Personnel Board was added to the HR manual in 2013 if the mayor didn’t intend to abide by his commitment.

Mayor Hayward and Sisson have declined several interview requests from Inweekly.

Note: An earlier version had attributed the conclusion regarding the commitment for Independent Personnel Board to attorney Russell Van Sickle. The conclusion was made by unidentified city officials.