Flagler Beach Fire Chief Martin Roberts has kept silent throughout the controversy surrounding City Manager Bruce Campbell’s decision to fire him. That decision, now retracted (see the story here), was the culmination of a clash between the chief and the manager over allegedly unauthorized trips the chief took, along with other firefighters, out of state to examine fire trucks for potential buys for the city. The trips were done on the firefighter’s time and on fire truck companies’ dime. On July 24, Martin countered the allegation during a three-hour due process hearing with Campbell and others. Martin was represented by Patricia Sigman, a long-time, Orlando-based labor and employment attorney with Sigman and Sigman. At the end of the hearing, Sigman summed up the case in a long closing argument that combined a searing indictment of the the city administration with an earnest defense of Martin. With the exception of a few inconsequential tangeants, the full text of Sigman’s closing argument is below.
I’ve got significant concerns about the process here and what we’ve done but I can tell you this. […] When you look at what was said on page two of the decision of the intent to terminate, it specifically says under Section A, that ‘after being reprimanded for your actions,’ so the only reprimand, the only document we can possibly think of that could be considered a reprimand is this March 23rd one. That’s the only thing in his discipline file, and that document did not follow the required procedures in your ordinance for how a reprimand has to be given.
According to your own procedures, the written reprimand will be sent to the employee and a copy shall be placed in the employee’s personnel file, that’s section 2-271(b) of your ordinances. So you have called this document a reprimand, you have used it against him, and you have not followed your procedures. Now, I suggest to you that when you said today at the beginning of the meeting, Mr. City Manager, that everything has to be above the table and that procedures needed to be followed, that goes both ways. And the city did not follow a proper procedure.
Either using the same tone as the city manager’s intent to terminate letter, either this March 23rd memo never existed before June and it was made up and back-dated after the fact, which one could imply, because it wasn’t in the HR file and the HR person says she’d never seen it; or if it was in existence before March 23rd, it was not in compliance with 2-271, ever given to Mr. Roberts as required by that, and placed in his file. So there is a non-compliance with your procedure.
And yet you were using that improper document that was at best delayed, against Mr. Roberts now on page two of your intent to terminate. Now, if there’s some other reprimand we’re not aware of, then that’s not consistent with the procedures, either. Because if it’s a reprimand, then it was supposed to be given to him.
So you’re basically taking the oldest employee, the oldest department head that we’re aware of, of your town, he’s served honorably to his department, he’s well-liked by his community and his members, he was going above and beyond, doing out of the goodness of his heart something he believed was important for the community and for the safety of both the public and the men and women who ride on these trucks. And he did it on his own time. This was not a trip to Vegas. You stipulated this was a hard-working trip where they ate McDonald’s and they went to very basic kind of a trip where they worked hard. And because of the goodness of his heart he did it on his own time.
He believed that everything was known to you. Your own assistant was aware of the trip in advance. Other people were all talking about it. It was being Facebooked about during the event. It was openly known. And so one could say that it’s negligent for the city manager not to say he knew about it when everybody else did. But there was nothing done to have hidden this, and when your own assistant is aware of it, then that’s your knowledge, too.
Now, my client indicates that he met with you, that he talked about these trips that they were working on, that there was no indication from you that they couldn’t go or that there was some problem, or don’t go, and that they wouldn’t have gone if you told them not to do these things. […]
And so 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. 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. […]
I will say, I’m really concerned that for some reason it was decided not to investigate the age-discrimination complaint. To start to tell the HR person to go ahead and get the deputy, the detective, to start investigating that, and then to pull her off of it before she gets started, you know, I feel like that in and of itself is a very concerning matter for a city who claims to have an anti-discrimination policy. Because it’s a fundamental principle of anti-discrimination procedure that when you receive a complaint of discrimination, you begin an investigation promptly, and you don’t put the investigation under the rug and try to hold it off until stuff dies down. When you receive a discrimination complaint, you should be trying to get to the heart of it, the city should be trying to get to the heart of it, before such time as any further action is taken against the individual who is complaining.
And so, what we have here is, my client gave in a complaint of discrimination, then he was given the silent treatment for a couple of weeks, and then he was given a back-dated by four days, notice of intent to terminate, that was well after his discrimination complaint. And now that’s not only not been not investigated, but we aren’t allowed here in our due process hearing to ask questions of the very decision-maker who we believe has that notice. So this entire scenario is not a due process just and proper way of dealing with the long-term employment of this very fine fire chief who’s sitting next to me.
You know, 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?
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. 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.