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Sheriff’s Ex-PIO Files Sex Discrimination Grievance Over 35% Pay Cut and Demotion

| March 7, 2013

Bob Weber was to the left of Jim Manfre on the eve of the new administration's take-over, as Manfre announced impending changes and his new top team, which includes Undersheriff Rick Staly, in the light blue shirt, Human Resources Director Robert Crouse, to whom Debbie Johnson addressed her grievance, and Jack Bisland, the new head of the investigative division. (© FlaglerLive)

Bob Weber was to the left of Jim Manfre on the eve of the new administration’s take-over, as Manfre announced impending changes and his new top team, which includes Undersheriff Rick Staly, in the light blue shirt, Human Resources Director Robert Crouse, to whom Debbie Johnson addressed her grievance, and Jack Bisland, the new head of the investigative division. (© FlaglerLive)

Months after he was elected sheriff for the first time in November 2000, Jim Manfre appointed Debra Johnson his public information officer. She’d been a reporter at the News-Journal until then, covering the cop beat–and Manfre’s election campaign. Manfre also hired Bob Weber, a deputy who rose to the rank of lieutenant in subsequent years. Johnson stayed on as PIO when Manfre lost to Don Fleming. So did Weber.

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The day he took office for the second time on Jan. 8, Manfre demoted Johnson, cut her pay 35 percent–from $63,000 to $41,000–and installed Weber as the new PIO, with Johnson as his assistant, though she was still performing duties she’d performed previously. Weber was told of the assignment literally a few hours before Manfre announced it to media in a news conference the day before he took office. Weber’s pay hasn’t changed: was paid $77,000 a year before and after the assignment.

Johnson has now filed a grievance with Robert Crouse, the sheriff’s office’s new human resources director, alleging sex discrimination and a violation of her civil rights. It is one of several actions by current or former employees the sheriff’s office is contending with since Manfre took over and aggressively took on employees, policies, practices and mindsets to remake the agency in his–and in Undersheriff Rick Staly’s–image. Just yesterday morning (March 6), Manfre summoned David O’Brien, a 29-year employee of the agency whom Manfre had named his chief deputy during his first tenure, and fired him.

Johnson’s grievance is indicative of a growing backlash against the sheriff’s Patton-like frontal assault on the old regime, but it also underscores the dearth of women in the sheriff’s top management team. Aside from Becky Quintieri, the jail director–who has also been under pressure to fall in line with the new sheriff’s style–seven other top positions are held by men.

“The male employee is not qualified for the position,” Johnson wrote Crouse on Feb. 6, referring to Weber. “He has a law enforcement background, but he has no on-the-job training in public information duties nor does he have a formal education in mass communications, public relations or any related field as compared to my 12 and a half years in this position; my 22-plus years as a newspaper reporter and my Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications-Journalism. The demotion and salary reduction was based on sex discrimination.”

Johnson asks to be immediately reinstated to her former position, and to have her salary reinstated at its former level, with back pay. “I understand that the administration is desirous to have a sworn law enforcement officer as a spokesman and as such I will continue to work with your deputy in all dealings with the media.”

Johnson, who has been on personal leave unrelated to the grievance for the past two weeks, could not be reached Thursday. She returns to work Monday.

Weber was present during a Jan. 7 news conference the sheriff held to inform media about impending changes at the sheriff’s office the next day. Asked during that conference if he’d done public information before, or was conversant with public record laws, Weber candidly said no, and the sheriff’s attorney, Sid Nowell, intervened to say that he would be conversant with public record law issues. On Thursday, Weber said he’d been taken aback by the question and the setting during that news conference, only because he’d been made aware of his new duties so soon before that and had not even had a chance to discuss the assignment at length with Manfre. Weber said that while he may not have held the title of public information officer before, he’d frequently had the opportunity to speak on law enforcement issues in various settings, and had a solid education behind him.

“I appreciate Debra for her professionalism and thank her for working with me in my new role as Public Information Officer for the Sheriff’s Office,” he’d written moments earlier Thursday in an email. Weber has a BA and MA in criminal justice from John Jay College, and is an FBI National Academy graduate. He started his police career in New York state, coming to Florida in 1996, and working 12 years as a deputy at the sheriff’s office in the patrol division and in other assignments.

“The reason why I brought Bob in,” Manfre had said in January, is that “we need to provide a better job in the agency of providing you information in a timely matter. So between Lt. Weber and Debbie Johnson, it will be covered 24 hours, seven days a week. It may not necessarily be Bob doing that, but between the two of them, they will. The thinking also is that I’ve always felt, and I was trained, that it was important to have a uniformed officer as part of the public information stream. The public wants to see, obviously, information flow, but it’s also important to have a uniformed officer who understands the actions of the patrol deputies, so they can better explain what’s going on. I think we’ve grown in the agency. By the way, I was the one who created the public information position. There wasn’t one prior to me taking office in 2001. I think Debbie has taken it to the level that she could. I think that by adding Bob, Lt. Weber to it, we are bringing it to where it needs to be, where you have 24-hour coverage and a law enforcement perspective.”

Public information officers typically handle all press inquiries–both as a buffer between media and official personnel and a channel through which an agency more uniformly presents its public face. They also provide information directly to the public, and usually handle all public-record requests. As such, PIOs in any agency can be both obstacles and conduits to information. Depending on their skills and the level of trust they enjoy from their supervisor, they help shape the image of an agency. Manfre is more self-conscious about his image than Fleming was, to the point of retaining a public relations firm for his transition. Pay and title aside, it’s not quite clear what discerns Johnson’s job from Weber’s.

“Since the reassignment,” Johnson writes in her grievance, “I have been performing the same duties as prior to Jan. 8 with less pay. I write the agency press releases, but send them out under the name of the deputy. I have worked on-call and on a holiday without receiving compensation for the additional hours. This appears to be in violation of the federal Equal Pay Act.”

Johnson goes on to differentiate the complaint from the performance of her duties, saying she has a good working relationship with the agency, with Weber and Staly. “The demotion and salary reduction,” she concludes, “have not been allowed to affect my job performance because I am a professional. I am dedicated to the service of this agency and our community, but I also seek fair treatment and compensation.”

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42 Responses for “Sheriff’s Ex-PIO Files Sex Discrimination Grievance Over 35% Pay Cut and Demotion”

  1. Jodi Secreet-Nutcher says:

    I am starting to regret that I voted for this Sheriff..

  2. Ruben says:

    Good old boy network and its 2013 when will it ever end?

  3. mellissa says:

    Good for her. I’m glad she spoke up and is taking action. This happens too much all over and it is far from fair. Nobody should ever be a victim of anything like this, just imagine how many silent victims there are.

  4. Jill says:

    This is getting to be a bad omen and the horses weren’t even out the gate yet with such a late night news conference before his first full day of taking the reins from his predecessor. This is not only embarrassing but is proving to be somewhat dysfunctional for a man who is no less an attorney but also has prior experience under his own tutelage as Sheriff. What has Sheriff Manfre learned in those prior years?

    How or why would you appoint Lt. Weber to the position of PIO just hours before a news conference? In Lt. Weber’s defense it appeared he was caught off guard and unprepared to answer news media questions. His former trusty law firm partner and now Agency attorney, Sid Nowell, interjected and answered for the speechless Lt. Weber.
    Sheriff Manfre had the opportunity not to appoint Debra Johnson to his new administration without prejudice but he chose to retain her vast experience and education, but not to pay her what she was worth. If Sheriff Manfre is a wise man he will pay her what her former salary was including back pay to save Flagler taxpayers’ additional monies from a lawsuit.

    Sheriff Manfre in cahoots with the Flagler County School Board and Superintendent of Schools, Janet Valentine, and, oh yes, the lone parent that wanted protection for her daughter at the expense of other children (how selfish), now is adding additional school deputies at further cost to taxpayers. I just can’t grasp this fairy tale ending in the ominous shroud of school children safety.

    Nor can I grasp the latest events of Commander O’Brien’s dismissal in such a short order.
    I think Sheriff Manfre’s problem and obsession has to do with seeing the forest for the trees. With having lost the Sheriff’s election eight years ago he is solidifying his base to prevent the same incongruities which doomed a chance at reelection. In only two months as Sheriff there are cracks and insecurity beginning to reveal flaws to his hubris.

    “Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that happened to you or might happen to you, but merely for your own gratification.[7] Hubris is not the requital of past injuries—that is revenge. As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater.” [Wikipedia].

  5. Ray Thorne says:

    So she’s writing the story and someone else is getting the credit?

  6. Anonymous says:

    It was no secret that Fleming promoted his favorites and paid them a higher salary than say the industry average in an area comparable to Flagler County, while road patrol/deputies were not as well-paid as other areas in the State. Manfre’s has justified his decision for this particular management move, and his justification is sound. There is no “female card” to play here, this is not about male or female. Tax-payers may sing a different tune come budget time and Manfre presents with a reasonable and workable budget, and crimes are being solved rather than cases closed out on the same day the incident report was written, like in the Fleming admin. These winds of change are very good, refreshing.

  7. glad fly says:

    weren’t things a lot smoother when fleming was sheriff? fleming for sheriff next election.

  8. glad fly says:

    this guy’s got more drama than a b-movie.

  9. thinkforyourself says:

    Jim, This is NOT leadership.

  10. kmedley says:

    If the objective is to utilize both employees to provide 24 hour service, then why not make them Co-PIO and offer each the same rate of pay? That would be more cost effective than a lawsuit.

  11. Reality Check says:

    Here is the true Manfre folks, the ego maniac and the reason he was voted out last time, a real POS. I said it would not take long for the civil suites to start flowing in, he is an attorney make him represent himself. Bottom line is he will cost us high dollars with his ego; he hired a PR media firm on his first day to ensure he would be in the spotlight, a giant waste of tax dollars. Why does a Sheriffs dept. need a social media PR firm? (Marketing 2 Go) because they supported him during his election. This is the typical Flagler county power people trying to run this small city like it is Miami, we have no extra money and do not need to spend it unwisely, media firms and civil law suites are not a very good start to our Sheriffs term. Look how many articles have been on here in the past 2 months about Manfre, I looked into Ben Johnson (Volusia) and I found 1 or 2, both positive, this guy stinks to high heaven and tax payers will be stuck paying for the air freshener.

  12. nyy says:

    David O’brien for sheriff!!!!

    • Girl says:

      You got to be kidding – Sheriff don’t think so – just ask the deputies and workers that were under him
      No love lost there – look what was done to the Majors by him – more experience and respected then him by a long/shot.

  13. JR says:

    Not only is this like a bad recurring dream but we, the voters, abuse ourselves by electing the same old crap when there are plenty of professional and qualified candidates out there to choose among (without the baggage).

    Both of these former Sheriff’s have cost the taxpayers of Flagler County unnecessary legal expense which could have been used to pay road deputies instead of bloating excessive salaries in higher ranks.

    Mrs. Debra Johnson has a case and it would behoove the Sheriff to pay her equal with back pay to avoid the legal drama and added cost to the taxpayers.

    We don’t need the constant media exposure of a dysfunctional Sheriff’s Office.

  14. Barbara says:

    Agree with kmedley, excellent suggestion, if both are doing same work so department will be covered 24/7 make them Co-PIO’s at the same pay rate.

    • Ray Thorne says:

      According to the story they’re not doing the same work. She’s doing it and attaching the deputy’s name to it. So it’s her work but someone else now gets the credit if I am reading the story correctly.

  15. HJ says:

    Wow….2 months in office and already all these problems, with Manfre.
    Is anyone surprised ? Get ready for more…let the lawsuits begin !

  16. On the wrong track says:

    OHHHH what a web we weave…. This administration is slowly sinking deeper into the quicksand of power hungry..

    Don Fleming where are you! Is it 2016 yet? We need you back sooooooo bad.. LOVE to see a poll today, Don vs Jim,,,it’s a no-brainer…

  17. glad fly says:

    andy griffith for sheriff….barney fife for under sheriff……coudn’t be much worse.

  18. Deep South says:

    Weber seems very well qualified with all his education and FBI credentials. Johnson still has a job. But your superior felt Weber is more qualified . This happens all the time in corporate America whether you are male or female. I see know discrimination.

    • Ray Thorne says:

      I would have to ask how it is felt that someone who, according to the article and self admittedly has no experience in the field, is better qualified than someone who’s been at it for so many years?

  19. "My Daily Rant" says:

    Manfre was useless his first term what makes people think this round would be any differnt.
    The main problem is there are far to many people from NY Voteing.This Clown NEVER served a day in his life as a Police Officer so he knows no better.Now for Debbie,she has been a gem in her duties as the information officer. Save a justafible Lawsuit pay Debbie what she deserves.

  20. reader says:

    Wow $63,000 for a PIO and $35,000 for a deputy on the street fighting crimes, dealing with stuff most of us would never even have nightmares of and risking their lives. Working holidays, weekends, nights…
    She is suing the dept while she should be counting her blessings to even have that job and still make such a high salary.

    • Ray Thorne says:

      So someone who puts themselves through college and earns a couple degrees in their field should expect a low salaried position? Should expect this decreased salary while still doing the same job of which now someone else gets the credit? i agree cops entry level pay scale should be higher but don’t say she’s lucky to still have a job. she was wronged plain and simple.

  21. reader says:

    It all boils down to Manfre eliminating unnecessary positions.

  22. David S. says:

    WE need someone who has a great deal of law enforcement capabilities to run this office both of these men are a joke. When are the citizens of this county are going to wake up.

  23. Darin says:

    Neither of these people should be a sheriff. Neither has enough COMMON SENSE. Neither understands they ARE NOT RULERS…They are hired to work for the people, not themselves. Time for NEW fresh candidates with intelligence and COMMON SENSE !!!! This little ” SINKHOLE” of a city is the most CORRUPT place I have ever lived.

  24. Cabreia says:

    The FCSO dispatcher is not an officer and on the FCSO website, it clearly states NONSWORN. For communication positions.
    I predict Manfred will be’ found out ‘ within. 6 months and it isn’t even halfas disgusting as his recent inappropriate, raging tantrums.
    Nowell LIKESe the easy money and Manfre is trying to Cover something up about his biz dealings outside of biz. Crystal clear.

  25. Lives in Palm Coast says:

    This is why I wanted Pollinger! I listened to him and believed in him. I told as many people I knew but it didn’t work. Next time I wish people would LISTEN to the debates before voting. This IDIOT begged for votes at the voting places and bad mouthed Pollinger, because he would have done anything to win, pathetic. Now we are all paying the price for this guy……

  26. NOSTRADAMUS says:

    I Cant Believe All the Disbelief The residents of Flagler County are having over the ReElection of Mr. Manfre???? He is NOT a Police Officer, Has NEVER been a Police Officer and NEVER Will be a Police Officer!!!!! He has Brought Great Disfunction to The FCSO Before and He is Hard at it Again!!! The Men and Women Who have dedicated their Lives to Serve and Protect this County are Being Demoted or Worse Yet, Dismissed by a Wanna be COP, Who is Nothing More than an Attorney with a EGO!!! The Officers Mr. Manfre is Claiming Flagler County Has No Future Need for Your Services!!!!! Really JIM??? These Same People Know EVERY INCH of This County, its People and Problems!! We Dont Need Them, REALLY??? Who do we need, Rookies just out of the Police Acadamy???Your an ATTORNEY, NOT A POLICE OFFICER, Please Do This County a BIG FAVOR and Go Back to What You Know, Because YOU have NO BUSINESS being in LAW ENFORCEMENT!!!! OH,MY NEXT Prediction is a LOCAL Retired State Trooper gets Hired By YOU?????? Does the Initals J.D. Ring a Bell Mr. Manfre???? BUB ROBSON, PLEASE RISE!!!!!!!!!! OUR New MOTTO for Flagler County is “ANYONE BUTT JIM”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. tim g says:

    RECALL, RECALL, RECALL : I knew Manfre was going to be bad for Flagler County but in my wildest imagination I didn’t think it was going to be this bad. Seriously can you image it being any worse?

  28. terry says:

    Told you… Manfrie is the biggest loser around. I am so glad I am spending my money in Daytona and too bad still living here.

  29. Maryjoe says:

    “So between Lt. Weber and Debbie Johnson, it will be covered 24 hours, seven days a week. It may not necessarily be Bob doing that, but between the two of them, they will. demoted Johnson, cut her pay 35 percent–from $63,000 to $41,000. Weber’s pay hasn’t changed: was paid $77,000 a year .”

    Anyone who doesn’t see something wrong with that…well, it’s disturbing to me. Now, is it illegal? We’ll see as the case goes on.
    And check this out..the guy couldn’t even field the first question put to him correctly, lol..” Asked during that conference if he’d done public information before, or was conversant with public record laws, Weber candidly said no,Weber said he’d been taken aback by the question and the setting” . You were HIRED TO DO THAT and are paid QUITE handsomely to do so. Obviously not for your skills in that arena.

  30. cindy says:

    I guess the voting pubic is fairly new. Some weren’t here for his first try at sheriff. He was a then and now an arrogant person. I think he picks on people. He seems to have a vendetta out for quite a few in the sheriffs’ dept. Kinda like when I get in this person on the chopping block, this one getting demoted. Dictator.

  31. Timmy says:

    61,000 for PIO and now she is making 41,000. Hmmm 41,000 for what she does and 35,000 for a deputy? No feeling bad for her. The deputies need an increase. This is getting to a retarded point. Sworn employees should ALWAYS be higher paid then office staff. They are high risk and held to a much higher standard. What the hell is wrong with Flagler County? I hope Manfre realizes this and makes the right choice. Give these men and women on the street what they deserve.

    • Nancy N. says:

      Ms Johnson was being compensated appropriately for her job description and experience compared to what she would earn in the same job in other industries. So you’re saying that she should take a pay cut to work for the police department just because her co-workers are police officers? This kind of attitude is why we get the least qualified, least skilled, lowest quality employees working in professional jobs for the government. They can earn way more in the public sector – so why would they work for the government?

      If you want to complain about what someone is paid in this comparison, the problem is not that Ms Johnson was overpaid but that the deputies are underpaid. How about fixing that instead of penalizing Ms Johnson for the fact that her coworkers are underpaid?

  32. RNYPD says:

    The hits just keep on coming. Anyone want to bet on just how many law suits this guy incurs over the next few years?

  33. confidential says:

    I totally agree that not only Debbie Johnson was overpaid but many of the former brass in the FCSO as well. No one in the private sector will offer that pay rate to Mrs Johnson…lets be realistic. No employer at least in this county with the high unemployment rate we have. Mid and top brass making upwards of 80,000/year in the local FCSO when we have deputies on the front line risking their lives day in and day out just making less than $30,000/year? Sorry but something was very wrong with that picture and now we have Sheriff Manfre to fix it! The reasons are simple: 1 is fairness, 2 is the wise use of our tax payers funds to be assigned only where really justified and needed. If anyone has any doubts about who was over paid under the last FCSO in charge, and has the time to go thru the records check the following, link under Flagler County and keeping in mind that those were just the 2010 salaries at the end of 2012 probably were higher:
    Most of us funding those high pays in this county, do not make anywhere near those salaries.

  34. PC Aviator says:

    The pay the deputies receive is within the normal range for deputies. Consider this as starting salaries:

    Volusia County Sheriff’s Office: $32,011
    Putnam County Sheriff’s Office: $29,120
    Flagler Count Sheriff’s Office: $33,012
    St Johns County Sheriff’s Office: $36,050

    Now, command and executive staff in St. Johns are paid more than Flagler as well. Volusia has a pay range with Flagler salaries comparable to the middle of the road to there pay range. They are also a charter government with the pay set by the county commission who are all elected officials. What is the city officials in Palm Coast making? What about the county commissioners in Flagler…significantly more than the deputies!

    Now, is this an amount that we should pay the men and women who protect and serve us while we are home snuggled in the warmth of our beds? No, but as a society, we have always paid our cops, fire fighters and teachers significantly less than what is deserved. And the men and women still take those jobs because it is in their hearts to serve the community. Which then takes me to the entire issue with the state retirement reform but that is another post.

    The fact with Deb Johnson is this: she was doing a job and getting paid for $63,000. Did she do everything right? No, none of us do? Manfre came in and demoted her, reducing her salary to $41,000. Which he could have done.

    Now comes the discriminatory part: Manfre put a male in the female’s place, paid him more money, and left the female to do the exact same job she was doing—except putting the males name on her work.

    Change the names to someone you know. Would that being discrimination then?

    No matter how it is looked at, it is discrimination. That may not have been the intent. It was probably more like, “Hey, Bobby, you can be my new PIO.” And Bobby replied, as he slurped his wine, “Sure, I can do that because I am working on my second retirement and need a cushy job to ride out the next few years until I can draw social security and two retirements.”

  35. Charles "Bub" Robson says:

    Debs a good person, stay calm this will work its self out. Theres a lot of good men and women on FCSO and thats what will hold the Dept. together that will provide excellent police services. All you sworn folks stay safe out there.

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