But department will get diversity training
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodaySEBRING - A city investigation has determined a firefighter's complaint that he was the victim of racial discrimination at the Sebring Fire Department is unjustified, according to a report released Friday.
Published: February 9, 2013
Published: February 9, 2013
However, City Administrator Scott Noethlich said he accepted a recommendation from Mayor George L. Hensley, who conducted the probe, that the fire department receive diversity training.
David Avila, a firefighter, wrote in a complaint that Fire Chief Brad Batz "has made me feel like an unequal member of his department through his racial actions."
Those have included Batz keeping a noose in his office, alleged comments about a black firefighter doll and passing Avila without speaking. Avila said he had to wear an FNG tag while others firefighters did not.
But Noethlich said in a letter to Avila that Batz has frequently spoken highly about Avila.
"From all accounts, you are an asset to the city and I thank you for your continued service to the city," Noethlich wrote.
In his report, Hensley noted that Avila's peers chose him as firefighter of the year for 2012.
Hensley wrote to Noethlich that in general the investigation indicated the complaints were the results of miscommunication or misperceptions.
As for the chief passing Avila without talking, that may have stemmed from a tense relationship in general between the firefighters and the chief at a time of disagreements between the firefighters' union and the administration.
As for the FNG tag in which the letters stand "f----ing new firefighter", that was a joke began by senior firefighters, Hensley wrote. He said that other new firefighters wore the button.
Hensley that while Avila may have been offended by a noose in the chief's office, that was apparently several years ago and the investigation showed no evidence that it was used to convey a racial message.
As for the black firefighter doll, Hensley said that someone gave the doll to Batz as a present.
Avila told Hensley that another firefighter told him that in discussing the need for more firefighters with Batz "the firefighter joked that "if we could not hire a new person, we should at least hire that guy," referring to the doll," the report said.
Batz supposedly made the comment "we already have one of those," or said something similar, Avila told Hensley, according to the report.
But Batz denied making the comment or having any similar conversation, Hensley wrote. The other firefighter said he did not view the comment as racially motivated and that it could have been worded differently, Hensley wrote.
Like Noethlich, Hensley said that Batz has praised Avila.