Okaloosa fire chief investigation shows how it could be done with transparency

Last night, the Ocean City-Wright Fire Control District board was briefed on how Mark Bonfanti with the Tallahassee law firm of Allen Norton & Blue would conduct his investigation of the district’s fire chief and deputy fire chief.

Five firefighters have filed hostile workplace complaints against the chiefs. Bonfanti said he will interview all five and any other possible witnesses. He will conclude by interviewing the two chiefs. The complaints are known and the media has copies.

In the City of Pensacola, the investigation of the fire chief was done without this level of transparency. Mayor Ashton Hayward chose to not disclose the complaints or the scope of the investigation. The mayor hired the attorney for the investigation without consulting with City Attorney Lysia Bowling or the Pensacola City Council. The complaints investigated were not made by firefighters but by the Chief Human Resources Officer Ed Sisson.

Employees were placed under a gag order by City Administrator Eric Olson.

Of the six complaints, the only two that may have deserved investigation were regarding the interview panel for hiring and the demotion of Lt. Edward Deas. Those decisions were made by former Chief Matt Schmitt, whose job description placed all responsibility for hiring and discipline under him. Glover should have been a witness, not a suspect for those two complaints.

The interview panel was an unwritten protocol, not in the HR manual. It was within Schmitt’s authority to forgo it, as per his job description. Other city employees, including Sisson, have been hired without job applications or any notes on their job interviews placed in their personnel folders.

The first determination of the Deas investigation should have been whether or not his compliant–about allegedly being pressured to resign as president of PUFFA and his successor also allegedly being pressured –should even have been reviewed by Schmitt and HR as a fire department issue. The Ocean City-Wright firefighters complained about harassment, intimidation and racism on the job. Deas did not.

Also the fire chiefs were questioned first in the Pensacola investigation, not last as they will be Okaloosa County.

In Okaloosa County, both the Firefighters’ union and NAACP are monitoring the investigation. They did not here….actually weren’t allowed to do so.

I do look forward to seeing what the legal bill is for the Ocean City-Wright Fire Control District investigation.

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