Jacksonville Chief, Top Brass Must Go, Panel Says

The Jacksonville Human Rights Commission meeting Tuesday to review a report of racial incidents at the Jacksonville Fire Department has called on the mayor to remove Fire Chief Rick Barrett and four top managers of the fire department.

The recommendation comes as the panel met to review a draft report that called incidents of nooses found on black firefighters' lockers "manifestations of broader persistent problems" within the Jacksonville Fire Department.

The draft report, obtained by Channel 4 Monday, contains allegations of discrimination toward minorities and women and alleges unfair practices, including how discipline is applied in the department.

"Discipline is routinely administered in an inconsistent manner, with African-Americans and females receiving more severe discipline than white male employees," the report states.

The draft report recommends that the mayor should look closely at Fire Chief Rick Barrett and his staff, and that they may need to be replaced if racist attitudes in the department continue.

At Tuesday's meeting, the commission reviewed the report and voted to change the final version that will be presented to Mayor John Peyton to call for Barrett, Deputy Chief Randy White and two other appointed managers to be replaced.

"Another thing that bothers me about those four individuals ... they did not see a problem with racism in the department," commission member Dennis Wade said. "I could not understand that."

Monday, after Barrett read the draft report and said each of the issues would be addressed.

"The report was very in-depth, and we are going to take each one very seriously," Barrett said Monday, before the commission met and toughened the calls for his ouster.

Tuesday afternoon, Barrett told Channel 4 that he will not resign. He told the local station 's Jim Piggott that he will finish a week of vacation, then sit down with the mayor next week and discuss the report.

In the report, the Human Rights Commission said they had "come to the regrettable but firm conclusion that the noose incident at Station 4, and another noose incident are but highly visible manifestations of broader persistent problems."

Some examples of problems cited in the report include "unequal application of disciplinary rules and sanctions" and "widespread negative perceptions among African-American and female employees of inequities and favoritism throughout the department."

The reports states, "If there were African-Americans or women in a class, employees reported sometimes overhearing comments by members of the JFRD administration, including the human resource/EEO Manager, saying, 'Oh, we're trying to meet quota.'"

There were allegations that "excessive practical jokes, horseplay, harassing, hazing or intimidating behaviors is a norm at various fire stations and is allowed to exist without appropriate management intervention."

Female firefighters told commission members they were being "sexually harassed by male co-workers and a captain who is referred to as 'Jew Boy' while management looks the other way."

The commission's report was also very critical of the firefighters' union, saying there is no clear distinction between management of the fire department and the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, Local 122.

The head of the Black Firefighters Association said the report says a lot about the department, but it's up to the mayor, not to fire chief, to make changes.

Jacksonville Fire-Rescue Division employs 1,200 firefighters and 80 civilians and operates on a budget of just over $120 million.

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