By Dan Scanlan
JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — Saying they have “lost all trust, faith and confidence” in Jacksonville Beach Fire Chief David Whitmill's ability to lead, the city's firefighters union has issued a vote of no confidence against him.
In a Wednesday letter to city officials, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2622 wrote that circumstances left its members with no other recourse to vote in what it called an “unprecedented point in our department's history.”
The two-page letter said the chief, a 25-year member of the department, had fostered an atmosphere of “hostility, retaliation and unethical behavior” among the city's 28 firefighters at two fire stations since being named to the position in 2016.
“Examples of this include his participation in video recording members of the fire department, disciplining members without 'just-cause,' using profanity and hostile demeanor during investigations and conveying an 'I don't care attitude' regarding the future of this department,” the letter reads. “… Attempts to address workplace problems with Chief Whitmill have gone unheeded. We feel the relationship with Chief Whitmill is irreparable.”
Whitmill, promoted in 1996 to lieutenant and captain in 2002, said he would not “comment on that at all” when reached Thursday. Jacksonville Beach interim City Manager Karen Nelson also had no comment “at this juncture.”
Local 2622 union president Lance Sparrow said if the possible merger of Jacksonville Beach fire stations with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department comes true, the issue over the chief could be a moot point. But they voted in case no merger occurs, he said.
“At the end of the day for me, representing my membership and listening to what they said, the merger would solve it. We would go over and not have these issues,” Sparrow said. “With that being said, as my membership have stated about this merger discussion, they don't want to act like this is going to happen. … The membership wants him relieved of duty, a new chief put in, and they want to be a part of it.”
The letter says this may be the first time in Jacksonville Beach city history that a no-confidence vote has been made against a fire chief.
“He has brought morale to an all-time low,” the letter continues. “His lack of leadership and poor management style has begun to affect the everyday duties of the firefighters of Jacksonville Beach. Chief Whitmill has established a pattern and practice of inequitable treatment of department personnel and utilizes the internal investigation and threat of disciplinary action as a means to intimidate members.”
The union added that Whitmill has been the center of two city investigations regarding a hostile work environment and retaliation, and nothing has been done by city officials to address it. His unwarranted discipline and “bullying” has left many employees with fear for their jobs, the letter said.
The long-proposed merger with Jacksonville also was part of the letter, with union members writing that Whitmill has said many times that he is “going to run out everyone that doesn't want to be here” if the merger does not occur.
A draft proposal for merger is “still under consideration” and would not affect the city's fire marshal or chief if implemented, Nelson said.
“It … is still under discussion, so all the terms have not been agreed to,” Nelson said. “We are still working on some revisions and we need to schedule another meeting with Jacksonville fire officials.”
Nelson said they hope to get a final proposal before its City Council for discussion in late February.
Learning about the union's letter for the first time Thursday morning, Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters President Randy Wyse was surprised. But he said he was aware that they “have had some struggles in the past and I respect that decision they made.” As for the proposed merger, Wyse said his and Jacksonville Beach's union membership have had input into merger discussions and called it “absolutely” a good idea.
Copyright 2019 Florida Times-Union
McClatchy-Tribune News Service