Fla. emergency management director resigns

Published: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 8:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 8:15 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's top emergency management official resigned Monday against his will, saying an investigation into allegations made against him would have found he did nothing wrong.

Interim emergency management director Ruben Almaguer submitted a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist ending a month of discussions about his performance. Almaguer initially told Crist administration officials last month he would resign, then in an e-mail Monday morning said he had changed his mind because it would create the impression he had done something wrong. After meeting with Crist's chief of staff later, he turned in his resignation letter.

Crist has appointed Division of Emergency Management deputy director David Halstead as interim director, his office said.

"All of my conduct on and off the job has been lawful, proper, ethical and honorable," Almaguer wrote. "My conscience is clean. If there are other allegations, they should be investigated thoroughly, openly and fairly."

The claims against him, according to Almaguer:

— He discriminated against women by exempting female employees from a travel policy that requires senior staff to stay at the department's logistics center in central Florida rather than nearby hotels when visiting the building that stores food, water and other supplies to respond to hurricanes or other disasters. Almaguer said the decision didn't adversely affect female employees.

— He misstated the travel savings the Division of Emergency Management achieved last year. Almaguer said the figure he provided was accurate.

— He made improper purchases. Almaguer said he has not.

Those issues and others were mentioned in letters Bureau Chief of Preparedness Gwen Keenan sent Crist in late November and early December. Keenan urged Crist not to give Almaguer the permanent appointment, saying he created a hostile work environment.

Keenan said Almaguer sought to break hiring rules to handpick people for positions; berated people for smoking outside of designated break times; took home an agency vehicle against agency rules; had an agency satellite phone activated to take on a personal fishing trip to the Bahamas — a trip she said he made during hurricane season, a time when he denied out-of-state vacation to other employees; and sought to break a large project into smaller projects to avoid competitive bidding.

Keenan also described "a long series of sexist comments," saying that "There is not a trip that I take with him when he has not asked why I don't stay home with my children."

Before resigning, Almaguer asked for an investigation into whether Halstead improperly forced the resignation of the division's top lawyer, Tom Congdon, and threatened the jobs of other top staff members if they were loyal to Almaguer over Halstead.

Almaguer was the agency's second in command under Craig Fugate and previously was the administrative operations chief of the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department.

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