MCFR fire chief candidate accused of harassment against women and lack of higher education

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Paul Nevels, 2014 file photo [MCFR]
Ocala, Florida — On August 26, acting County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes selected Deputy Fire Chief Paul Nevels as the candidate to become the next Marion County Fire Chief.

Bouyounes will present his selection to the Marion County Board of County Commissioners during its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 1.

According to Marion County Public Information Manager Barbra Hernández, the hiring process included an initial round of interviews with six qualified applicants by a panel of local and regional fire rescue and governmental officials. A second round of interviews for the top two finalists took place a little over a week ago, which were conducted by Bouyounes and Jeannie Rickman, Assistant County Administrator of Public Services.

Over the past few weeks, Ocala Post has received dozens of e-mails in regards to corruption within the Marion County government. One of the e-mails included accusations of discrimination against women, which prompted Ocala Post to investigate.

Through several public records requests, Ocala Post was able to obtain the scoring sheets for two fire chief applicants, Paul Nevels and Shari Hall.

The applicants were scored based on their answers to 10 questions that address all of the major areas and requirements of the fire chief position.

In several areas required of the job, interviewers noted that Nevels showed “strong evidence that skills were not present.”

For Marion County taxpayers, an important issue is budget, which is an essential skill as a fire chief.

Question number five on the score sheet reads: What is the process you would use to prepare and present the department budget?

One of the three interviewers noted that Nevels showed “strong evidence that skills were not present,” while the remaining two interviewers noted that Nevels showed “some evidence of skill present in budgeting.”

Hall, on the other hand, showed “very strong evidence of skills present in budgeting.” This was indicated by two of the interviewers. The remaining interviewer noted that Hall showed “an advanced level of knowledge or experience in budgeting.”

Overall, Hall outscored Nevels and showed that she had skills in all areas of the position of fire chief.

In May, Ocala Post researched the requirements of the job, and found that then heir apparent Paul Nevels met very few of the qualifications to be a fire chief.

According to the job description, a fire chief is required to have a bachelor’s degree in fire science, business administration, public administration or other related field, with a master’s degree highly preferred. Also required is five years experience as a company officer in a combat firefighting position; hold, or at least be able to hold, an EMT certificate; be a Florida Professional Geologists or equivalent; have a driver’s license; and have an emergency vehicle operations certificate, or EVOC. The job description further states that having a National Fire Association Executive Fire Officer certificate is preferred.

But, a review of county records indicated that Paul Nevels only meets two of those requirements – he has a driver’s license and EVOC.

According to state records, at one time Nevels was an EMT, but his license has been labeled as “Null and Void” since 2012. This means he would have to go back to school for a semester to retake the course and pass the state exam to become certified again. If he doesn’t, placing Nevels in this position would be no different than giving a firefighter a gun and promoting him to a law enforcement position without proper training.

More astonishingly, it would appear that Nevels would not be qualified to be hired today as an entry-level firefighter, as he neither has a CPR card nor has he taken the federally required refresher courses to at least be considered a first responder.

Nevels would be handed a top-level position with a six-figure salary of $109,990.40 annually, and he is not even qualified for the job. His current salary as deputy chief is $103,209.60.

Meanwhile, first responders who actually save lives — and risk their own — barely make the wages of someone who flips burgers for a living.

Hall, according to her resume, is a certified firefighter/EMT, a State Certified Paramedic, and holds an Associate’s Degree in Emergency Medical Services.

She is currently the Support Services Division Chief for MCFR.

So, are woman being discriminated against at MCFR and by the BOCC?

Angie Sweeney, a former senior inspector/Investigator with MCFR, says absolutely.

Sweeney says that she served MCFR with her heart and soul for 27 years and 8 months, only to be forced into retirement because she got sick.

She said she was forced out and her position was given to a man because Marion County suffers from the “good ole’ boy” syndrome.

In an e-mail, Sweeney wrote, “Due to the male who took my position stating the salary was not enough money, the BOCC re-classified the position to ‘Fire Plans and Inspection Manager’ and significantly bumped the pay grade.”

She went on to say, “Sounds like sexual discrimination to me. The time I put in meant absolutely nothing to the BOCC or fire officials. I can only hope that I made some difference to the citizens of Marion County.”

The proposed wage contract presented to the firefighter union by the county, which was rejected by the union, does contain language that clarifies the amount of time an employee could be out on a leave of absence.  If a firefighter has surgery, gets cancer, or has any other illness, the firefighter would not be able to take a leave of absence that would exceed 19 months in a 24-month period. If they did, they would be terminated.

According to public records, harassment complaints from women are nothing new within MCFR.

Nevels has had two discrimination and harassment complaints filed against him in a little over a year.

The last discrimination and harassment complaint was filed on May 14, by 26-year-veteran female firefighter paramedic Captain Angela Tutino.

On May 29, as with the first complaint made by a female firefighter paramedic, BOCC director of Human Resources Amanda Tart wrote in a memo, “On the face of the complaint I find it does not establish a violation of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners Harassment Policy nor the Harassment Policy in your Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

In her complaint, Tutino wrote that a culture has been created within the fire department that makes it acceptable to harass women.

She said Nevels has a bad attitude toward women.

So, how does a person who scores low during a job interview, does not have the proper education, and has a history of discriminating against women, get recommended for the position of fire chief?

Bouyounes told Ocala Post via e-mail that Nevels was chosen because he scored higher during a second interview.

Nevertheless, a reasonable person could conclude that even if Nevels did score higher during a second interview, he lacks the education and skills to hold the position.

If Nevels is hired as fire chief, Marion County will have set the lowest standards for a fire chief in the region, while every county bordering Marion County, including the cities of Ocala, Leesburg, and Micanopy, require dual certification and advanced degrees.

As for Sweeney, she says she is currently seeking legal counsel.

This is a developing story. Ocala Post will keep you updated as more information is obtained.

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