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Tincher, Baker suspended again

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published February 15, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - Police Chief Ed Tincher and human resources director Ron Baker were suspended with pay Tuesday morning, just hours after the City Council approved $15,000 to pay an outside investigator to look into the feud between them.

The decision, made by Acting City Manager Steve Baumgartner, served as another repudiation of the way former City Manager Richard Anderson had handled the meltdown at City Hall.

On Jan. 8, Tincher, Baker and police Lt. Rick Hankins were all put on paid suspension by the City Council in a 3-2 vote. The majority of the council said they were fed up with the clash between Tincher and Baker and wanted them out of the picture while an investigation was conducted.

Baker was arrested in August on a charge of giving Xanax to a co-worker who was having an anxiety attack. He says the arrest was engineered as retribution for reporting on an alleged affair between Tincher and a City Hall secretary.

Anderson, the city manager at the time, said that he would conduct his own investigation into the allegations, which included charges of the misuse of power, misappropriation of property and drug abuse. Anderson decided that no outside investigator was needed and, after two weeks of paid suspension, he reinstated Tincher, Baker and Hankins.

The same day he reinstated the three, Anderson was removed from his job and Baumgartner was moved from finance director to acting city manager.

Baumgartner quickly reversed course, by electing to use an outside investigator.

On Monday night, the council approved funding for that investigator, and then Tuesday morning Baumgartner told Tincher and Baker that they were back on administrative leave.

"I had decided quite a while ago based on discussions with people in the business that this is what you do," Baumgartner said Tuesday. "I was just waiting to see what council would do. ... It's not punitive in any way."

The paid suspensions will be in effect until the investigation wraps up in roughly two weeks.

Baker said Tuesday that he had filed a grievance, complaining that he was being treated unjustly and had not been told what the allegations were against him.

"I believe it is stigmatizing and demeaning to me and my family," he said. "It's the damnedest thing I've heard of in my life."

Tincher was unavailable for comment.

The decision to hire an investigator or to discipline employees rests with the city manager, according to the city attorney's reading of the city charter.

But Baumgartner gave the council a chance to give its opinion on hiring the investigator when he put his funding request before the council Monday night.

Council member Richard Lewis said he wouldn't appropriate even one dollar of taxpayer money "when no one will tell me the charges or who is involved." He said that if the investigation is not a criminal one - which Baumgartner said it was not - then it should be investigated internally.

Mayor David Pugh Jr. said that he could understand why Baumgartner didn't want to do the investigation himself: No matter how it turned out, he would be accused of bias. That's why Baumgartner asked for an outside investigator, Pugh said.

Lewis then looked behind Baumgartner for a moment and addressed Pugh.

"I thought for a second that Steve (Baumgartner) could speak for himself, that he wasn't a puppet," Lewis said.

Baumgartner assured Lewis that he wasn't a "hand puppet" and that, weeks ago, he had advised Anderson, the former manager, not to do the investigation on his own.

The exact allegations that are under investigation have not been revealed, though Baumgartner has said, in broad terms, that they involve the ongoing feud between Tincher and Baker. He said that's why Hankins was not put on paid leave Tuesday.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

[Last modified February 15, 2007, 06:40:37]


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