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Consultant to examine police department

After officers file complaints of discrimination and harassment, the Pinellas Park police department brings in a Tallahassee consultant to conduct a "climate survey.''

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- Although he defended the police chief and thinks discrimination is not a problem in the Police Department, the city manager urged the council to hire an outside consultant to make suggestions to improve officers' morale.

Council members agreed at a special meeting Monday night. They unanimously voted to spend about $41,000 to bring in Management of America, a Tallahassee company. Management of America will spend 12 weeks looking for any problems in the Pinellas Park department and then will offer suggestions to fix them.

The decision comes in the wake of allegations that department leadership fosters a climate where harassment and discrimination based on sex and age are rampant.

Three female officers have filed federal and state charges of sex discrimination and harassment. Two male officers have filed union grievances alleging there is a "hit list" of officers targeted for firing based on their age and their willingness to speak out against management. The wife of one officer has also complained that harassment and discrimination extends to the spouses of officers who are perceived to be outspoken.

City Manager Jerry Mudd was adamant that he does not believe the charges.

"I would like to point out that it is my understanding that Internal Affairs in the Police Department did conduct inquiries into the first two complaints of Officer (Shirley Atherton) Marsh; and, of course, the personnel director conducted an inquiry into Officer (Donna) Saxer's first complaint," Mudd read from a prepared speech.

"Those investigations resulted in findings that no discrimination or retaliation took place. In addition, the decision-makers and other police personnel complained of in each of the referenced complaints deny the charges and deny that any discrimination or retaliation has taken place.

"I want to emphasize that I agree with those findings," Mudd said.

Mudd added that police Chief David Milchan also is concerned about the charges. But Milchan and Mudd see part of the problem as one of a heavy workload and few officers. That can help lower morale, said the city manager.

It's that low morale Mudd said he was concerned about in wanting to bring in an outside consultant.

Council member Chuck Williams was doubtful at first and said a consultant may not do the job that needs to be done.

"We already know there is a climate problem," Williams said in arguing that an outside investigation, rather than a climate survey, needs to be done.

"I want to do this the right way; and if it means doing both, let's do both."

The decision to bring in an outside consultant pleased most.

"We're happy to have someone come in from outside and take a look at us," Milchan said.

The chief, who had just returned from a two-week vacation, said he was "100 percent" certain that the climate survey would clear the department of any hint that mid- and upper-level officers discriminate against or harass other employees.

Also pleased with the decision would have been Pinellas Park resident Harry Marlow. Marlow had written council members a letter defending Milchan and the department but urging that the consultant be hired.

"Chief Milchan has done a remarkable job of "cleaning up' the department, and it grieves me to read what is being written," Marlow wrote.

"Let's face it. There will be problems with people any time all are not 100 percent satisfied 100 percent of the time."

Marlow continued, "Our city owes Chief Milchan and his staff a complete investigation by an outside party. I stress an "outside' investigation so that all allegations can be put to rest once and for all and the department can enjoy the respect it deserves."

Others were concerned an outside consultant hired to do a "climate survey" would be unable to unearth all departmental problems and find ways to solve them.

Pinellas Park resident Karol Singleton said it appeared to her that the department has "top line management problems, possibly a misuse of powers." She urged an outside investigation be done to find out what is truly going on.

Singleton also was concerned that Management of America might have ties to department officials that could cause the company to overlook things or go easier on them. Mudd assured her that is not the case.

Also urging an outside investigation was Pinellas Park police Officer Charles Prichard. Prichard talked about the "hostile" environment in the Police Department and alleged he had been the victim of a battery by another officer.

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