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City will pay for police consultant

(ran West edition)

The Pinellas Park council votes to spend nearly $10,000 more to complete the interviews. One member votes no.

A divided City Council has agreed to spend almost $10,000 more to make sure all police employees are individually interviewed by an outside consultant who is looking into questions of department morale.

The lone holdout was Patricia Bailey-Snook, who charged that the consultant had breached the confidentiality clause of the contract. That breach, she said, resulted in the attempted firing of then-Pinellas Park police Chief David Milchan, who had talked with the consultant before he was suspended without pay. Milchan resigned that same day before he could be fired.

"I think we've already seen the fallout of retaliation," Bailey-Snook said. "I think that that is retaliation. If I was an employee of the city . . . I wouldn't say what my true feelings are."

She added, "I don't trust these people to carry out the mission they've been given."

Other council members failed to agree with her. Instead, they referred to a letter from the Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association, which said that the union thought the survey was a good idea.

"The PBA is totally behind this," Mayor Bill Mischler said.

Later Mischler said, "Our main goal is to find out if we have problems and where the problems are. Whether it's in the rank and file or above, we have to clean them up."

Bailey-Snook was not persuaded, saying the contract might as well have been "written on toilet paper."

"I can't vote spending $50,000 for nothing," she said.

The Police Department's woes began earlier this year after three female officers filed state and federal complaints alleging they had been sexually discriminated against and harassed. Two men filed union grievances charging that they were victims of a "hit list" of officers targeted for firing because of their ages and reputation for speaking out.

Milchan maintained that none of the officers had been discriminated against and that his department would be cleared by any and all investigations.

The council unanimously agreed to spend about $41,000 for an outside consultant to survey the department and make suggestions for improving matters.

While the union and officers thought hiring the consultant was a good idea, they were less enthusiastic about the company's proposal to interview them in groups of eight to 10. Rank-and-file officers feared they would be unable to speak freely in case others in the group reported what they had said.

The company offered to interview about half the department's employees one on one. Then the entire department would fill out a survey that had been developed from those interviews.

That, too, displeased officers. They wanted to make sure each was interviewed separately. But doing that would cost an additional $9,560. That increased the contract price by 23.5 percent to $50,300.

The council agreed to do that at Thursday's meeting.

Bailey-Snook was upset because while the consultant was trying to iron out details of the survey, he had spoken with Milchan and his administrative staff. Apparently Milchan said something that was unflattering of Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd because both the former chief and Bailey-Snook blamed the consultant for the chief's ouster.

According to Milchan's version, Mudd called him about 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 and said he wanted to discuss something the consultant had said. When Milchan got to Mudd's office at 3 p.m., he was handed a letter suspending him without pay and giving him five days to explain why he should not be fired.

Milchan returned to his office and fired off his resignation.

Later, he questioned what the consultant may have told Mudd.

Mudd, however, said the consultant was not at fault and did not breach any confidentiality.

The fault, he said, was Milchan's. Milchan, he said, refused to take his suggestions for improvement and wagged his finger in Mudd's face and threatened a federal lawsuit for age discrimination if he was fired.

"It looked like a finger," Mudd said Thursday. "It sure seemed to me the words (threatened a lawsuit)."

Mudd explained that he was "depressed" when deciding what to do about Milchan. The weekend before he fired the chief, Mudd said he spent between eight and 10 hours going over documents at home and deciding what to do. Among those documents were exit interviews dating back five years from employees who had left the department.

"When I read those exit interviews . . . I noticed again . . . there were morale problems. They had been mistreated," Mudd said. "I felt someone in the highest leadership of the Police Department was being disrespectful of me and others."

Mudd referred to several "heated conversations" he had had with Milchan.

"I felt I was seeing with my own eyes that which officers had been talking about in exit interviews," the city manager said.

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