Fired Fla. chief says he wants his job back
Former Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Chief Jeffrey Collins said County Administrator Verdenia Baker forced him out as "a pretext to further a political agenda"
By Wayne Washington
The Palm Beach Post
PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Former Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Chief Jeffrey Collins, who resigned in the aftermath of sexual harassment and retaliation complaints that have rocked the department, said Friday he wants his job back.
During a 22-minute press conference at the law offices of his attorneys in Boca Raton, Collins, a 21-year veteran of the department, said County Administrator Verdenia Baker forced him out as "a pretext to further a political agenda."
Collins did not elaborate on what that agenda is or why Baker would move against him to further it. His lawyers said they are considering Collins' legal options.
"Last Friday, I was threatened and forced to submit my resignation to Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker," Collins said. "To be clear, I did not voluntarily leave my position as the fire chief. I love my job. I love serving. And I love protecting the public."
Collins said Baker "blind-sided" him with threats of being fired with a blemish on his record if he did not resign.
"I did not think I had any other options," he said. "I was effectively being terminated by Mrs. Baker's actions and threats to taint my impeccable 21-and-a half year career as a public servant. One thing is clear, I had no options."
The Palm Beach Post reported in December that Fire Rescue Capt. Amanda Vomero had filed suit against the department and the county, alleging that Division Chief Chris Hoch repeated sexual rumors about her and retaliated against her when she complained. That news story also noted a lawsuit filed by Vomero's supervisor, Division Chief Joey Cooper, who alleged that Collins retaliated against him after he testified on Vomero's behalf in an internal investigation of her complaint and after he attempted to investigate a complaint of sexual harassment made against Hoch by another female firefighter.
Hoch was given a written reprimand last year for violating county rules against harassment and retaliation in the workplace. He has denied all of the allegations against him.
Baker told The Post that she would have zero tolerance for sexual harassment among county staff, but Hoch's reprimand -- issued nearly two years after the allegations against him -- was seen by some in the department as a tepid response to a significant problem.
Collins resigned on January 12, but he rescinded that resignation on Monday, saying Baker and other county executives coerced him into quitting.
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