(March 22, 2013) In a suspect case of policy being too broad to not be specific, the Ocean City Council this week passed a resolution adopting a new “Harassment-Free Workplace Policy,” which, while being relevant to the city’s entire workforce, was clearly directed at the ongoing tension in the Ocean City Fire Department.
The resolution to add the one-page anti-harassment policy to the employee manual was adopted by the elected body without discussion. Although he would not comment on whether the policy had been devised with the OCFD controversy in mind, City Manager David Recor said it “was aimed specifically at unacceptable and inappropriate behavior regarding protected classes and characteristics.”
“It’s an applicable policy organization-wide, which is why I asked the council to adopt it by resolution and have it included in the employee handbook,” Recor added.
The back-story to the ongoing tension in the OCFD, and in City Hall, was first confirmed to this newspaper in December of last year by a number of independent sources – all of whom wish to remain unattributed, due to the contentious nature of the matter.
However, the Town of Ocean City has surrendered a union grievance as well as supporting correspondence, filed by the city’s chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters against OCFD Chief Chris Larmore, which corroborates the events. Names of individual employees whose employment status is discussed were redacted from the materials.
Although the identity of these individuals are easily verified, and have been reported by other media outlets since Ocean City Today broke the story in January, this publication will continue to keep them anonymous.
In March of 2012, Larmore informed IAFF President Mike Maykrantz that he “was looking at another permanent Captain’s position,” in response to Marykrantz’s query over officers who had been placed in “acting” or temporary positions. This promotion would potentially involve the promotion of a union member to a non-union, command staff position.
In the same email, Larmore stated his intention to make one of the union’s members, currently serving as an “acting” lieutenant in the absence of another officer, into a permanent lieutenant. That promotion was announced in a July email from Deputy Chief Chuck Barton, thus allowing the aforementioned officer to participate the ensuing captain’s promotional process.
Following extensive testing and review in the late summer and fall of 2012, Larmore determined that the recently promoted lieutenant be further promoted to captain, along with another female lieutenant who had been filling in for some time as an “acting” captain.
However, Maykrantz said in the grievance that the IAFF “believed that the goal was to convert [the acting captain] into a permanent one,” and that, the grievance alleges, “at no time during the [promotional] meeting or the entire process did Chief Larmore state that the department was promoting two Captains.”
The OCFD was only scheduled for one promotion in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. But Larmore’s rationale, as sources say it was presented to City Hall, was that the dual promotion would allow for succession planning due to anticipated retirements in the coming cycle.
Although the plan for a dual promotion was said to have been endorsed by Recor and city Human Resources Director Wayne Evans, Larmore brought his proposal before the City Council briefly after the November election.
Under the city’s charter, city department heads are free to make their own personnel decisions, with the approval of the city manager. However, Larmore wanted to notify the council of his promotion decision because he would, in effect, be changing the structure of his approved budget, although the money would come out the same due to retirements.
However, sources indicate, multiple members of the council objected to the move, and Larmore was pressed to make only one candidate a captain. If forced to make a choice, Larmore is alleged to have said, he would promote the most qualified candidate, which he considered to be the female.
But several sources privy to the council proceedings claim that Larmore’s stance was flatly refused, with one council member telling the chief, “That’s not going to happen. You’re going to promote [the male candidate].”
Larmore instead returned to the council with a compromise proposal that would involve promoting the male candidate to a captain, but also upgrade the female’s status to “permanent acting” captain. This plan apparently passed muster with elected officials.
Yet, news of the move apparently sparked uproar from the IAFF, and the grievance revolving around the promotional process was filed in December.
“Chief Larmore secretly sought approval to create and hire a second captain beyond the one approved captain position, then appointed the runner-up candidate under the disguise of a “permanent acting” captain position, a contradictory term that is not listed in the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] or any city documents,” the grievance states.
Although the city’s human resources department did not release the test scores, city officials had apparently been informed that the female candidate was, in fact, the highest scorer and most qualified, in a seven-part examination process of which five of the parts were conducted by outside agencies.
The IAFF grievance was subsequently denied by Recor, who notified the IAFF that it was out of its jurisdiction in trying to be the final arbiter, as a bargaining unit, of who would and would not be employed at the management level, a sector it does not represent.
Objection to the female candidate did not stop with the grievance, however. Rumors began circulating through City Hall and the town’s emergency services that Larmore had engaged in sexual relations with the female candidate.
Although Recor and Evans believed the accusations to be without merit, sources widely report that at least one member of council would not relent on the allegations. When Recor and Evans personally investigated the apparent sources of the rumor, they informed high-level city officials that the charges were unfounded.
The apparent scheme to discredit and threaten Larmore and his promotional pick reached its peak when, only a day after the dual promotion went through, a dead cat was left on his doorstep.
The campaign against Larmore and the promotion is said to have further revealed a pattern of harassment and intimidation in the OCFD. The female candidate alleged that she had long been the victim of harassment by fellow firefighters because of her gender.
The council’s insistence that the “permanent acting” condition be applied to her promotion was, in her view, a continuation of the harassment and gender discrimination, an argument bolstered by the purported use of sexual rumors as a weapon against her and Larmore.
According to sources, this is the substance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed against the city by the female candidate, which has sparked an intensive inquiry by the city’s labor attorneys – Miles and Stockbridge – to be presented to City Council at a later date.
As of this week, however, Recor said that he “believes that the matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.”
The “permanent acting” condition will now be removed from the female captain’s title, according to sources. Even if the complaint is withdrawn, however, the EEOC could continue to investigate the issue if it believes the city is at fault.
Further, as of press time, the IAFF has not yet ratified its new contract with the city, apparently due to some objection over the legal language used by the city.
“I think that those issues have been resolved at this point, most, if not all of them,” Recor said this week.