For Flagler Beach Fire Chief Martin Roberts, it wasn’t just a pre-termination hearing he was entitled to by city rules. It was vindication. He got his job back as his lawyer, like a Marc Anthony turning the tables before the city’s eyes, transformed Martin from an alleged insubordinate and incompetent with a hand on graft into a maligned hero who, wearing his heart on his sleeve, got stomped on by his boss.
“You know,” Patricia Sigman, Martin’s attorney, said at the concluion of the three-hour hearing Tuesday, “normally when people are being disciplined in city employment, it’s for not trying to do everything they could for the city. But you have somebody here who wanted everything he possibly could for the city, and you’re punishing him. Now, what message is that sending to the firefighters out there? What message is that sending to your city about the care and concern that you have for the one guy who was making sure that he gathered up all the information about these trucks, so that the people and the firefighters could have the right equipment?” (Read Sigman’s full closing arguments here.)
A day later, Roberts, who’d face termination last week, was handed instead a three-day suspension without pay, which he’s already served. He returns to work Tuesday. The controversy exploded in June when City Manager Bruce Campbell discovered that Roberts and other firefighters were taking trips to examine fire trucks out of state, without his consent, though they were doing so on their own time—but on fire truck companies’ dime. Campbell had warned Roberts previously that he had to follow the chain of command when taking big initiatives on behalf of the fire department. On July 12, he placed Roberts on administrative leave and told him he intended to fire him. The due process hearing was a required step before the decision could be made.
For Campbell, the hearing produced a devastating three hours of damaging allegations that raised serious questions about his leadership style, his command of administrative rules, his awareness of common-knowledge city business, his motivation for firing Roberts, and the potentially vulnerable position in which Campbell placed the city, should Roberts pursue further legal avenues.
Sigman, in a systematic analysis of the origin of a March 23 memo in which Campbell summarized a “last warning” encounter with Martin that took place that month, went as far as suggesting that the March date on the memo was possibly fabricated, as no such memo had been placed in Roberts’s file until June, when the controversy erupted, nor conveyed to him. Yet that was a central document that incriminated Roberts. (See the transcript of the key exchange on the matter between Campbell and Sigman at the foot of the article.)
The lawyer then showed that Campbell failed to follow his own ordinances in the steps he took—but mostly did not take—to discipline and then decide to fire Roberts. She revealed that Roberts had handed an age-discrimination complaint to Campbell before the controversy, and that the complaint was never investigated, in itself a serious violation of an employee’s rights with potentially serious exposure to the city.
And Sigman, in cross-examining Roberts, revealed that Campbell had had discussions with Roberts and Police Chief Dan Cody, telling them that he wanted to eliminate both positions and create a single public safety chief position. “During the discussion he said it’s not about the money anyway,” Roberts said. “We were in a discussion about budgets and so forth. And he said it’s not about the money anyway.”
“So did the police chief ask him then if it’s not about the money, then what is it about?,” Sigman asked.
“Yes, he did.”
“And what was the city manager’s response?”
“He didn’t really respond to it.”
“Was that further indication to you that there was some other motive going on here?”
“Yes, it was.”
“Did you feel like it was your age?”
“Yes, I did.”
Sigman had requested Cody to be at the hearing Tuesday. Cody declined, upsetting the lawyer. She had also requested that City Commissioners Marshall Shupe, a volunteer at the fire department, and Jane Mealy, who chairs the commission, attend. They both declined.
“I believe that the police chief who’s actually on duty should have been required to attend because this is city business, and he could be called over here,” Sigman said at one point.
“I can’t force him to attend,” Campbell said.
“Miss Sigman,” Virginia Cassidy, one of two attorneys who represents Flagler Beach, intervened, “you are not the city manager. Could you just continue on with whatever you want to do with this hearing?” It was only the latest of several confrontations between Sigman and Cassidy, who had deep disagreements on the scope of the hearing.
The hearing was held Tuesday in the presence of Campbell, Roberts, the two attorneys, the city clerk, Roy Johnson, a volunteer fireman with the city who was there as a private citizen (but an advocate of Roberts), and Paul Stevenson, representing one of the fire truck dealerships that had flown Roberts and other firefighters on one of three company-paid trips to examine fire trucks out of state.
Campbell also acted as the city’s representative, able to question Sigman’s witnesses—a role Sigman said was a conflict of interest, since Campbell was at the heart of the issue. Yet Cassidy would not let Sigman cross-examine Campbell, saying that questioning him would go beyond the scope of that hearing.
“That’s not true, we believe there’s an illegal motive for this termination, and we’re entitled to bring that up in due process,” Sigman, who has close to 25 years’ experience in labor and employment law, said.
Cassidy said those issues may be brought up only if Campbell chooses to actually fire Roberts, at which point the decision can be appealed to the personnel committee. “At that time, that is the time to go through whatever you’re saying, an illegal motive,” Cassidy said. “I’m assuming you’re talking about—I know that we have here a letter for age discrimination. But that does not enter this time. This has to do with his behavior, not with any illegal motive.” She added categorically, after a bruising exchange with Sigman: “You don’t have the right to cross-examine Mr. Campbell.”
When Sigman said that the harm to Roberts will have already been done if she were to wait until a subsequent hearing to cross-examine Campbell—because Bobby Pace, Martin’s interim replacement, has already been named—Cassidy said: “You’re the attorney, and now I’m not going to take that. I’m going to take that as incompetent, because you’re the attorney, and you don’t—you’re not going to be testifying here.”
“Excuse me? Excuse me,” a stunned Sigman said. “I will ask you to please think about, and retract what you just said.”
Cassidy: “No. I will not.”
Sigman: “I’m advocating for my client and I think I just heard you say something about incompetence.”
Cassidy: “You just tried to enter testimony that is incompetent. I’m sure that you must have gotten that information from who?”
Sigman said she wanted to ask Campbell if he’d notified anyone that that person was going to be the chief of the fire department, “because if so, I want to know that.”
“No,” Campbell said, adding (and referring to himself in the third person), “I just want to say for the record, this isn’t about Mr. Campbell. This is about the behavior that we witnessed at the fire department with Mr. Roberts. That’s all I have to say.”
The hearing resumed, with Sigman questioning Johnson and Stevenson, then Libby Kania, the assistant to the city manager, who had entered the room well into the proceedings. She could not remember when Campbell had given her the written memo in which he summarized his reprimand of Roberts. But she spoke at length of the complicated procedures employees and department heads go through in disciplinary matters, including the “progressive discipline” she had recommended Campbell apply with regards to Roberts, as opposed to an abrupt termination. Roberts has never been disciplined in his seven years with the city. Kania also spoke of knowing of the fire-truck trips, and assuming that Campbell knew, too.
It was then Roberts’s turn. The fire chief recalled the March 23rd meeting in which he was reprimanded (for circumventing Campbell, talking to commissioners, and bringing up a fire truck issue at a city commission meeting without warning Campbell first). But he said Campbell kept no notes, nor told him that he would be writing anything up, nor that there would be any disciplinary action, though Campbell did say that he didn’t want anything like that happening again. But he didn’t forbid trips or looking into better equipment.
Martin said Campbell knew about at least one trip. “He knew about it because he talked to me about it before, two days before. He even admitted to me that he knew about the trip to Pierce [the fire truck manufacturer] about two days before the trip was scheduled. He didn’t tell me not to go. He didn’t tell any of us not to go. He just said, oh, I knew about that trip.”
That, too, was a direct contradiction of Campbell’s accounts.
Sigman ended the hearing with a long closing statement that restated the facts in light of her findings, and underscored the implications of the way Campbell had handled the issue. “This is something that an employee with no prior history of discipline did in a positive way to try to contribute in a positive way to the town,” Sigman said of the trips out of town. “And we believe that this is being used and twisted and blown out of proportion and accelerated all the way to a termination, just in order to get rid of somebody who you wanted to get rid of anyway because you want him to retire and replace him with somebody younger.”
Roberts’s age-discrimination complaint could very well have been a strategy of its own, and a very effective one, that Sigman made full use of as a bargaining chip during the hearing: the complaint had never been addressed, it was still hanging out there, it could be pursued, and a firing would only make matters worse for the city.
“So we assert that the allegations are unfounded, that there was knowledge, that there was openness, that there was no deception, that there was no attempt to hide anything, that it was all done with pure heart and pure motive to try to serve what the interests of what my client thought everybody wanted him to do,” Sigman concluded. “And now, to turn it into something else in order to get rid of him, we feel, is a violation of the law and of his rights and what’s fair and just. I hope that you will decide to step outside of yourself and objectively allow others who aren’t right in the middle of this, to evaluate the situation before you make a decision that could be discriminatory, retaliatory and inconsistent with his legal rights.”
The hearing took place on Tuesday. Today, Campbell would not speak about it. “I’m going to give you this statement. That’s it,” he said by phone, a half hour after being reached, when he said he was in the middle of a meeting. He had written a statement, which he delivered over the phone: “I am saying that considering all the circumstances heard during the pre-determination hearing, I have decided to suspend Chief Roberts, opposed to an outright termination. Those circumstances coupled with what I believe is best for our city at this time, is why the suspension was ultimately decided. That’s it.”
Flagler Beach City Manager Bruce Campbell Answers Martin Roberts Attorney Patricia Sigman’s Questions
The hearing began with Bruce Campbell summarizing the issue from his perspective, and laying out the facts as he saw them, leading to the termination letter he sent Fire Chief Martin Roberts.
“I have a problem with how we didn’t follow our code,” Campbell said, “how we didn’t follow our chain of command, how we tried to not be above table and be forthright in asking permission and all of this sorts of things. At no time did anyone give Mr. Roberts the authority to act on the behalf of the city nor did we give any of his firefighters that authority, and heaven forbid of there would have been someone hurt or someone even more so, killed, because we would have had certain liabilities in my mind.” Based on all that, Camplell said, “dismissal is warranted.”
The following key exchange then followed between Campbell and the attorney over the origin of a memo dated March 23 that Campbell wrote about his encounter with Roberts, and which he used as a record of what he called a “verbal warning” and reprimand, which led up to his termination. Libby Kania is the assistant to the city manager.
Sigman: “When you mentioned insubordination, you did not mention at any point having provided a copy from any written memo from March 23 to Mr. Roberts.”
Campbell: “That memo was placed in his personnel file.”
Sigman: “And so what day did you write that memo on your computer?”
Campbell: “March the 23rd.”
Sigman: “And are you aware sir that according to the city’s ordinances, when you give anyone a written reprimand, a copy shall be placed in the file and sent to the employee.”
Campbell: “It wasn’t a written reprimand. It was a discussion that Mr. Martin and I had.”
Sigman: “And you did not give it to Mr. Martin, correct?”
Campbell: “No, it was placed in his file.”
Sigman: “And isn’t it true that in fact it wasn’t placed in his file until June.”
Campbell: “I don’t know that.”
Sigman: “In fact, didn’t you hold on to, or not have, that March memo, until sometime in June, when you gave it to Libby Kania, the HR director, to put into Mr. Martin’s file.”
Campbell: “I don’t know that.”
The attorney asks him about a June public records request that prompted more action regarding the memo.
Sigman: “And it was at that point that you gave it to Ms. Kania, correct?”
Campbell: “That is not true. Ms. Kania had that at the time if not way before that.”
Sigman: “How long before that public records request did you provide that memo to Ms. Kania?”
Campbell: “I have no idea.”
Sigman: “Wasn’t it in fact in June of 2012?”
Campbell: “I have no idea when she was given that.”
Sigman: “Well, you gave it to her, correct?”
Campbell: “She had asked—I had made reference to it, that this stuff in her jacket and she said she didn’t have it and I gave her another copy of it.”
Sigman: “When was that?”
Campbell: “Sometime in June, well before the records request.”
Sigman: “Approximately two weeks before the records request, correct?”
Campbell: “I don’t remember exactly when.”
Sigman: “Isn’t it true that no copy of the March memo, the March 23rd memo, was ever given to Ms. Kania, prior to June of 20012.”
Campbell: “I can’t say that.”
Sigman: “It’s important to you that all the procedures, the normal procedures of the city be followed in the way that things are documented, correct?”
Campbell: “I believe they were followed.”
Sigman: “So it’s your typical practice to write a memo, sign it, date it, about a personnel matter and then keep it in your office and not give it to anybody?”
Campbell: “I did not keep it in my office.”
Sigman: “Where was it?”
Campbell: “You tell me. I don’t know that it wasn’t there. You’re telling me something that I don’t know.”
Sigman: “Who else was present when you wrote and signed the March 23rd memo?”
Campbell: “Mr. Martin Roberts and I had the meeting. No one was present when I wrote the memo.”
Sigman: “Until you handed that memo to Libby Kania, had anyone seen it?”
Time to get out the bibs and play school. This is ridiculous. Fire them all and clean house. They are all incompetent and wasting our time and money.
CITY EMPLOYEE says
We are Glad to have you back Cheif !!!!!!!!
Art Blakely says
Politics is a very dirty business.
BC Supporter says
Welcome back Chief. I am very glad you’re back where you belong!! Sorry BC, I tried to support ya. I helped vote you in and now I wish I hadn’t. Didn’t take but a year before you had this town flipped upside down with everyone at each others throats. You’ve got this town all in the news and have ruined a beautiful little community. Why won’t you do the taxpayers a huge favor and step down? They are who you work for you know that right? Are you so arrogant that you forget that fact? You really don’t care about the people of this city do you? It is really showing through now. Haven’t you cost this city and its loving people enough trouble? I know you are just trying to play Mr. Big Wig and collect way freakin more money than you deserve ($90,000.00+ a year) but you are obviously in way over your head. It is effecting very good people throughout the entire city. We all deserve better than this. Just admit that you don’t have a clue what government is all about and quit. You can live off your tenants money can’t you? Rumor has it that one of your workers lives in your house. Please say that isn’t true BC? Is it? You definitely fooled everyone, including me. So much for you’re number one fan. :( I want a recount!!
A City Manager that has “tenants” as employees??? This is a Government Entity correct??? Isn’t hiring a “friend” considered Cyonyism??? “Cronyism is a more specific form of favoritism, referring to partiality towards friends and associates. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know but who you know,” or, as blogger Danny Ferguson put it, “It’s not what you don’t know; it’s who your college roommate knows.” Cronyism occurs within a network of insiders-the “good ol’ boys,” who confer favors on one another.” Public officials should also note that dilemmas involving favoritism extend beyond hiring and contracting practices to the more general problem of influence. Golfing partners, people who come over for Sunday dinner, members of the same congregation all are likely to exert a greater influence over an official than a stranger might. Council members, mayors, and legislators must make special efforts to ensure that they hear all sides of an issue rather than just relying on the views of the people they know. Further, many conscientious lawmakers have discovered that they must change their patterns of socializing when their work involves many decisions affecting friends and associates. At the least, they may choose to recuse themselves from votes where social relationships may exert undue influence. Shame on you Bruce Campbell…. my tax dollars contribute to your ($90,000.00)…. I agree with BC Supporter – you should quit and walk away while Flagler Beach can still be saved from your destruction.
interested in our city says
I highly doubt that you ever had been a supporter of Campbell from the nasty post. You have negated any information when you called the man you supposedly supported so many names. Even with the “rumor has it” comments.
From what I read of this article, the two parties were and are wrong. It looks to me like the chief and the city administrator are involved in a power struggle. I wasn’t impressed with either one of them and the way this was handled. But, the decision appears to be made more on the fact that there was evidence or documentation to bolster either side.
Love the way so called supporters throw someone under the bus at first opportunity. Again, you were never a supporter, in my opinion.
Another wrongful termination and finally someone decided to lawyer up. Good for the chief but unfortunately, it will be the taxpayers who lose in the end.
Jaii Hein says
As I said in another post, is the City Manager really competent? This could cost the city a few bucks…and a waste of legal time.
Congratulations Chief Roberts! I knew this would have a happy ending…..Although, I must admit, I didnt think that it would be this happy. Good Riddance to the incompetent City Manager.
Play nice boys!!!
One resident says
If the exchange and allegations cited in the article are correct, I can only hope Commissioner Settle now sees the true colors of his “chief ethics officer for the city” . Can you say “Vote of No Confidence”? Maybe the citizens should start the petition going to let he fab five know how we feel about a weasel at the helm.
D U H…. about half of us said this mole hill was no mountain 10,000 posted words ago…and the right area of concern is now finally being addressed. -3 Chiefs, 3 years-
Florida is a fire at will state, you can be fired for NO reason. yes he can sue but so can anyone. He’d lose.
Not for age discrimination he wouldn’t. After receiving the complaint, the city did nothing about it except try to fire him, how could he lose that?
just a thought says
Sorry elaygee. Do your homework. Even though Florida is a right-to-work state, that has nothing to do with terminations. Except under very strict circumstances, such as probation periods, no one can be fired without just cause. This was proved here.
“.. the one guy who was making sure that he gathered up all the information about these trucks, so that the people and the firefighters could have the right equipment?
And it was just nice of the truck companies to pay for several vacations for the chief? Does anyone see an ethics problem here?
The chief made 1 trip to one manufacturer. How is this several vacations? Ethics problem is non existant due to the fact that he received no personal gain from the trip, nor did the manufacturer gain anything by paying for the trip. Art Woosley seems to know a lot about this kind of stuff being a firefighter for over 100 years in the biggest department in the world. Why not ask him if they paid for his trips to see new equipment 50 years ago. I’m sure they did and his way to get the chief fired, well it backfired on him and the city manager.
As a FB outsider I see as usual this being one more time a big fight over who grabs better control of tax payers funds, to benefit who’s personal agenda/ego. No difference at all, which side of the game court these two individuals are. The only sad outcome is that the victimized taxpayers thru their elected officials foot the bills without having the courage to stop the nonsense, while wasting time cheering one or the other.
one resident says
Yes elaygee it is an at will state but the rules, laws and ordinances are in place for a reason and for ALL to abide by. Shouldnt our city manager lead by example or do you believe he’s exempt from following procedure? Personnaly i think he should be held to a higher standard.
Florida is a fire at will state, but there is recourse in certain cirumstances. You can sue under federal law if you believe that you have been discriminated against because of age, race, sex, or religion. If you work under civil service protection, you can sue. If your union contract includes employment protection, you can sue. It’s not all that clear cut.
All states are “At-Will” and the only way an employee has protection is when they’re represented by a union…
** At-will employment is a doctrine of American law that defines an employment relationship in which either party can break the relationship with no liability, provided there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship and that the employer does not belong to a collective bargaining group (i.e., has not recognized a union). Under this legal doctrine:
“any hiring is presumed to be “at will”; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals “for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,” and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work.
** Right to work is different from At-Will;
“right-to-work” law is a statute that prohibits union security agreements, or agreements between labor unions and employers that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees’ membership, payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. Right-to-work laws exist in twenty-three U.S. states, mostly in the southern and western United States. Such laws are allowed under the 1947 federal Taft–Hartley Act.
flagler citizen too says
Martin Roberts is a lucky man. And he has Bruce Campbell to thank for it. Mr. Roberts, along with a number of others, screwed up. The city manager had every right ( and reason) to fire him. If he is that bad of a city manager, he could easily have thumbed his nose, held his ground, caused the city and quite a few people a lot more pain, embarrassment, and yes, money. Would it also cost him his job? Maybe……. But if he is that bad of a city manager, why would he care? Fact is….he does care…. and most of the narrow-minded-naysayers know it. They also know he’s done a better job managing this city in a short time than some of the others did with the years that they spent here. But Damn him, for wanting people to tell the truth and follow the rules.
Hey folks let me set something straight. I know you have no way of knowing this but I actually work for the city and my name is Rick. I go by a nick name of Ozzy. I would like it to be known that I do NOT know Rick ” or “ozgirl12” I don’t need trouble at the city due to everyone expressing their opinions. I ask that you change your screen names so that it doesn’t fall back on me. I understand that there are lots of Ricks and oz’s out there
but I am in no way , shape or form involved in any of this. Thank you
I’m glad the Chief got his job back. It sounds to me like there were some dirty deeds going on. Maybe the City Manager wanted the Fire Chief gone so he could creat this new job of his? I do not believe the Chief did anything wrong that warranted being fired. If he’s about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a truck, wouldn’t you want him to go look at them first? Are you going to go by a new car without looking at it first? He was going to look at several companies, not just one. Welcome back, Chief! And the City manager needs to go. Out the door. I don’t think he can be trusted.
Diane Wood says
Maybe we should put all this petty crap to a side and rally behind someone who needs our support more. A city employee, Bob Smith lost his 17 year old daughter last nite in a terrible car accident. A fire Captain, Mr. Burnsed, for the county lost his 20 year old son. I think our support and kindness could be better used in this tragic turn of events. My thoughts and prayers are with these familys!
pamala zill says
I. Agree with you. Serious tragedy. My heart goes out to them.
If this was truly a fact finding trip, the fact the Chief and his firefighter accepted a trip by a manufacture paid entirely by that manufacture as stated in the article raises more concern. Any place I have ever been employed at would consider this a conflict of interest, a violation of the ethics code, and simply, a failure of management principles!
barbara haspiel says
Diane I completely agree with you. I just finished reading that tragic accident story and thought gosh guys can’t we all just get along. What is now done is done. My condolences to those poor families with such tragic losses.
It is common for fire truck manufacturer’s to pay for travel and lodging to promote their products. It is in no way a vacation but actually quite techincal work to spec out equipment this intricate. I have been there and done that. I think the crux of this arguement is wether the city manager knew they were going. He may have known but not “offically” been notified. If that is the case he may have an arguement but the severity of the punishment leads me to believe there is some underlying things going on. Because just looking at this from the outside…the city manager is acting very unprofessional for a city manager. Many people in managerial positions are terrible managers of people and have terrible communcation skills, which is needed in his position. Then things like this happen. Good luck Chief
John Smith says
Why is it the Fire Chief is the only one that has to follow the ethics code????? Where is the ethics code for the city manager or does he not have any. From what I see he VIOLATED his share of ethics.
One line shocked me in that tragic accident post:
“None of the victims involved in the wreck were wearing seat belts, the highway patrol reports, with the exception of Burnsed.”
Perhaps all the Emergency Services could pull together a joint effort to get these kids BUCKLE UP…there may be no better time to get their undivided attention :(
Much better use of Emergency Services time and resources.
Deepest sympathy to all families & friends involved.
Sounds like city management needs some serious house cleaning, so the professionals can do their jobs, Trying to combine fire and police sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I agree, time to put all of this behind us and move on. I would like to compliment Firefighter/EMT Bobby Pace who was named the interim Fire Chief. He was placed in a very difficult position. I believe, based on some of the long term projects that the city gave him to work on, that he was led to believe that he would be filling the position for quite some time. Bobby worked very hard on all of those projects. Thank You Bobby. Welcome back Chief Roberts.
The truth comes out finally!!! This idiot has been allowed to make decisions all along and the Commission is blind to the truth about him. Wake up people!!!!!!! He is making a joke out of the City and you are allowing it. Progress came and went. What a sad day for us taxpayers. Fire him and move on.