PORT RICHEY — Two former city officials filed suit Wednesday against the city and past and current leaders for what they call a culture of "cronyism and corruption" that led to their firings.
Former police chief Bill Sager and former public works director Herbert "Rocky" Schmidt accuse police Chief Dave Brown, City Manager Ellen Posivach, former city managers Jim Mathieu and Richard Reade and former public safety director Mathias Brewi of retaliating against them for speaking out on public matters.
Sager and Schmidt hope to recover lost pay, benefits, expenses and punitive damages.
The suit, filed by Tampa lawyer Michelle Rosamond, details a number of hostile meetings beginning in 2007 between city leaders and Sager, a 24-year veteran fired last month.
According to the complaint, Brewi used the n-word multiple times during a tour Sager was asked to lead as a part of Brewi's interview.
City Manager Jerry Calhoun told Sager, then the second-in-command, to document the slurs in a memo, which Calhoun gave to Brewi. On his first day as public safety director, Brewi demoted Sager to a patrol officer under his direct supervision.
An "atmosphere of outward hostility," as the complaint states, continued for years. Sager was passed over for promotions, denied overtime and recorded without his knowledge.
Mathieu told the City Council he was a "disgruntled employee."
And Brewi, after learning Sager had filed a federal discrimination complaint, called him "a cancer to the department" that had "f---ed over every member of the police force,'' the suit states.
Sager was first fired in 2008 after Reade said he sent a distasteful workplace memo throughout City Hall, an accusation investigators later overturned. Sager was reinstated, though not before the city's insurance carrier retroactively denied claims he filed after an on-duty injury.
Promoted to chief as a replacement for Brewi, Brown continued to antagonize Sager, the complaint states. He rescinded a sergeant's exam when Sager expressed interest. He promoted Sager to detective without an increase in pay. He even "publicly reprimanded" Sager when he didn't wave at city leaders in the parking lot, the suit says.
Last month, after the St. Petersburg Times requested personnel records from the police, Sager helped supervise a reporter's review of the files.
According to the complaint, Brown later called a departmental meeting and told officers to "keep your mouths shut regarding departmental affairs or leave the department," according to the suit.
Brown wrote Sager last month that he was placing "too much of a strain" on the department due to his serving on "light duty" while he awaited surgery. He was fired that same day, about six months short of his 25th anniversary.
Schmidt, a 19-year employee for the city's public works department, also claims in the lawsuit that the city unjustly fired him in 2008. Schmidt, a vocal opponent of attempts to disincorporate Port Richey, was approached by Reade at a work site and ordered to return to City Hall to respond to accusations he subverted his bosses while working, according to the suit.
Schmidt said he felt severe chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath and asked to go to the hospital, but Reade responded he would need to go to the meeting or face termination, the suit says. After Schmidt suffered a heart attack, Reade altered his job responsibilities and threatened him with discipline if he worked while on leave, effectively firing him, the suit says.
Schmidt is asking for compensation for "pain and suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment and inconvenience" after what he called Reade's false imprisonment, the suit states.
Brown and Posivach did not respond to telephone calls Wednesday afternoon.
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.