Fire Chief Saga: Where was Lysia Bowling?

According the city of Pensacola’s charter, the city attorney “serves as the chief legal adviser to, and shall represent, elected or appointed officials, boards and commissions, and employees in the course and scope of their official duties or employment, respectively. ”

However, the affidavits of Allan, Norton & Blue attorney Rob Larkin and Special Assistant to the Administrator Rusty Wells show City Attorney Lysia Bowling was cut out of the decisions regarding the fire chiefs in 2016.

When Larkin called City Hall in January 2016 to discuss Fire Chief Matt Schmitt’s EEOC complaint against City Administrator Eric Olson and Chief Human Resources Officer Edward Sisson, he didn’t talk with Bowling. He spoke with Olson’s special assistant, Wells.

When Larkin and Wells presented their plan to hire an outside investigator and put the Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Glover on paid administrative leave, Bowling wasn’t in the meeting to advise the mayor, Olson, Assistant City Administrator Keith Wilkins and CFO Dick Barker.

Larkin and Wells convinced the mayor to put Wilkins in charge of the investigation, not the city attorney. Wilkins should have recused himself because under the new HR manual he would be the final authority on any appeals made by Schmitt and Glover. It was no surprise Wilkins denied their appeals after the mayor fired them.

Keeping Bowling out of the loop ensured Wells and Larkin would get what it appears they wanted–the ouster of the fire chiefs:

Step 1: Convince Mayor Hayward to hire an outside investigator from his preferred law firm and put the chiefs on leave.

Step 2: Put Wilkins in charge of the investigation. Change the HR manual to eliminate the independent appeal board.

Step 3: Produce a report that Larkin would use to convince the mayor to fire the chiefs.

Step 4: Wilkins denies the fire chiefs’ appeals.

Note: The City of Pensacola notified the state the chiefs had been terminated on Feb. 15, 2016 –three months before Hayward publicly announced his decision and before the investigation even began.