Jacksonville's former chief of emergency preparedness, Todd Smith, speaks at a news conference. | City of JacksonvilleJacksonville's former chief of emergency preparedness, Todd Smith, speaks at a news conference. | City of Jacksonville
Jacksonville's former chief of emergency preparedness, Todd Smith, speaks at a news conference. | City of Jacksonville

Ex-Fire Rescue chief claims he was ‘coerced’ to resign

Published on January 23, 2024 at 3:01 pm

Jacksonville’s former chief of emergency preparedness claims he was “coerced” to resign after raising concerns about excessive spending by a contractor.

Todd Smith is suing the city, saying he was forced to resign over whistleblower actions, not the reason the city gave: that he was accused of sexual harassment at an out-of-state conference in 2022.

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Smith’s lawsuit accuses the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department of “gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, and gross waste of public funds.”

The department had no reponse to the allegations. The city has filed a motion to dismiss the suit. A hearing is set for May 16.

A 25-year veteran of the fire department, Smith notes that he was promoted several times, including his appointment in 2020 as division chief of emergency preparedness and his added designation in 2022 as director of emergency preparedness.

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But Smith resigned in May, and former Police Chief Andre Ayoub was appointed to replace him. Ayoub is now responsible for the city’s preparation, response and recovery during any emergency.

Smith’s suit revolves around a contract with Wheeler Emergency Management Consulting, which received the contract despite what the suit calls inexperience and a relative lack of qualifications.

Afterward, Smith reviewed reports and held regular meetings during which city staff discussed “Wheeler’s excessive spending,” the suit said. Wheeler was spending more on administrative costs that the Federal Emergency Management Agency allowed, the suit says. But the city took no action to restrain the spending, the suit says, and taxpayers paid the price.

Smith describes a meeting with Fire Chief Keith Powers and April Mitchell, the city’s chief of finance. He said Mitchell instructed him not to ask any more questions about the consultant’s spending, and Powers left the room.

On May 4, Smith claims, he met with Powers and was told he had no choice but to resign or be fired because of an allegation against him at the conference in Cleveland in July 2022.

The suit says the claims about alleged sexual harassment had been fully addressed a month after the conference and Powers told him that no formal discipline would be taken. He was told he would receive a warning and instructions to review city policies, the suit says.

Smith’s lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $50,000, plus compensatory damages, back and future wages and benefits, and reinstatement to his job, among other actions. 

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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