In a letter dated last Thursday, Erik Goss, president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 71, informed Mayor Hayward that their organization had made a vote of “no confidence” in his chief of staff John Asmar, who serves as liaison between the mayor’s office and the FOP lodge.
When Mr. Asmar was appointed your chief of staff, we were hopeful that he had overcome the adversities he faced while working in other government administrations. During your political campaign and the early part of your term, it seemed Mr. Asmar was committed to fostering a healthy relationship between the police officers and the City of Pensacola. However, communication has deteriorated and Mr. Asmar has become a wedge between the lodge and your staff. During your term as mayor, we have witnessed a division among the members of the lodge, city staff, and city council. Our members believe that this division is a direct result of Mr. Asmar’s behavior.
Lodge 71 has enjoyed a mutually respective relationship with the City since the lodge was formed in 1969. The level of mutual respect has declined within the past year. My members have spoken loud and clear. Mr. Asmar is the reason that your police officers feel the City lacks respect for them. I look forward to working with you to repair and rebuild the relationship between police officers and the City.
Goss emphasized that this vote isn’t a condemnation of the mayor himself. Hayward received the FOP’s endorsement in the 2010 election, and Goss personally donated to his campaign. He referred to Asmar as “a part-time employee making $120,000 a year”— a stark contrast with the $32,000 starting salary of city police officers.
“We elected Ashton Hayward mayor, not Asmar,” Goss said. “He was supposed to be part of the transition team, and that’s done. He should be gone now.”
The mayor’s office released a statement on Monday afternoon that dismissed the FOP vote as a bargaining tactic related to the ongoing pension negotiations:
Having reached tentative agreements with the City of Pensacola’s general employees, fire personnel and police lieutenants, which have resulted in significant pension reforms and savings, the City is currently in collective bargaining with the remaining union. Those union members include police sergeants and police officers. As with the other unions, the negotiations involve pension reform. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is not happy that the City is asking them to recognize the problems with their police pension plan.
As such, FOP’s letter is not surprising. Although this may be considered by the State of Florida as an unfair labor practice, unions all over the country have adopted and implemented such tactics in responding to attempts by responsible governments and governmental officials to reform pension plans.
“The City has sleepwalked into a pension crisis,” said Mayor Ashton Hayward. “The City respects the men and women who put their lives on the line every day for our safety. However, we must take action now. The City cannot sustain this model any longer. While the City will continue to attempt to reach an agreement with the City’s police sergeants and police officers, the City hopes that this can be accomplished without acrimony and disparagement of individual members of staff and further, interference by third parties with the collective bargaining process.”
The FOP “no confidence” vote is only one of many criticisms made recently against Asmar, however. Councilwoman Maren DeWeese has been publishing on her blog a series of emails (obtained by public records request) between Asmar and Independent News publisher Rick Outzen. She believes that Asmar has acted inappropriately by sharing emails with Outzen that were meant only for internal discussion among city staff.
“It is my opinion that Asmar has violated the City Code of Ethics proposed by Mayor Hayward in February 2011 and passed by Council,” DeWeese wrote. The code states that city employees and contractors “may not disclose any confidential information obtained formally or informally as part of his or her work for the city or due to his or her position with the city, or use any such confidential information to further his or her own or any other person or entity’s personal or financial interests.”
Perhaps more surprising are criticisms from two council members who, far more often than not, have supported the mayor and his agenda: Council President Sam Hall and Councilman Larry Johnson.
In a June 23 email, Hall protested the mayor’s decision to let Asmar negotiate with Studer Group over the terms of their proposed office building lease at the Maritime Park — even describing him as “poisonous” to the process.
I certainly support your effort to protect “your” interest in the lease, but insofar that Jim Messer “officially” represents your staff, the city council, and the citizens of Pensacola equally without prejudice, it is my intention that Mr. Messer engage with Studer Group’s legal counsel to negotiate a lease.
I hope you will have Bill Reynolds involved in the oversight.
If you feel John Asmar must be included in determining your support, then fine. But for the record, please note my exception to him being part of the negotiation. He is poisonous.
On July 2, Councilman Johnson responded to an email by City Administrator Bill Reynolds in which Reynolds informed council members that he would be out of town until July 9 and instructed them to contact Asmar with any urgent matters. (Mayor Hayward has also been out of town.)
“I prefer to speak to someone other than Mr. Asmar if I have any issues,” Councilman Johnson wrote.
Reached for clarification on this comment, Johnson said that he has seen a pattern of “heavy-handedness, bullying, and intimidation” in Asmar’s dealings with council members — for example, the memo instructing them not to communicate directly with city staff — and that it has become “harder and harder” to work with Asmar.
“I felt like the citizens of Pensacola would be better served if I dealt with someone else in the mayor’s office,” he said.
Ann Regan contributed to this story.