Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summary of Asmar Issues

Over the last week I have posted emails which indicate the depth of the involvement of "Independent" Weekly Editor Rick Outzen and Chief of Staff John Asmar. 

It is my opinion that Asmar has violated the City Code of Ethics proposed by Mayor Hayward in February 2011 and passed by Council.

Sec. 2-6-3. - Prohibitions

(g) An official or employee of the City of Pensacola may not, directly or indirectly, treat anyone, including himself or herself and his or her family or business associates, preferentially or in any other manner that is not generally accorded to city residents.

(h) An official or employee of the City of Pensacola, or a former official or employee, a contractor or a consultant, may not disclose any confidential information obtained formally or informally as part of his or her work for the city or due to his or her position with the city, or use any such confidential information to further his or her own or any other person or entity's personal or financial interests.

In my opinion, Asmar violated Article (g) in that he provided Outzen with information not publically available nor provided to any other press outlet.  The two have a long established relationship both in business and personally.  Additionally, Asmar expedited Outzen requests for public records not afforded to City Council much less City residents.

In my opinion, Asmar violated Article (h) in that he disclosed confidential information to Outzen, specifically:
  • A document he wrote for the Mayor which clearly stated attorney-client privilege
  • Internal documents regarding Mayoral policies and internal city business
The provisions of the code of ethics applicable to city employees as set forth in the City of Pensacola Employment Manual, shall be enforced by the mayor.

On March 16, 2011, Mayor Hayward wrote City Council asking for approval of his code of ethics.  He stated:

"President DeWeese and I have worked very hard to ensure that this Code of Ethics is a reasonable, common sense document that sets a standard for the type of transparent and ethical government our Citizens deserve."

I call on Mayor Hayward to act on this matter and live up to his pledge of transparent and ethical government.





Outzen Weighs in on Budget Cover

Of all of the emails I received as part of my public records request, the attached shows the depths of Outzen's involvement with Asmar and the PR spin put on everything by the Mayor's office. 

Derek Cosson circulates a draft of the budget cover for the 2013 budget asking for input.  The email goes to Asmar, the Mayor, and Travis Peterson. The cover contains photos of City projects and images.

Asmar forwards the email to his master for input.

Outzen responds " No African Americans.  Find some."

After taking the Masters order, Asmar then sends an email to Cosson, Peterson and the Mayor asking "Minority representation?"

Outzen-Weighs-in-on-Budget

The overriding question I have is if the emails I have posted show a glimpse into Outzen's control over Asmar and therefore the Mayor's office, imagine the depths of control actually excercised through phone calls, personal conversations, text messages and other means not subject to public disclosure.

Rick Outzen was not elected to run this City.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Asmar Forwards "Privileged" Info to Outzen

Asmar lists his role with the City as Chief of Staff and Special Counsel.  This allows him to claim attorney-client privilege on much of what he ghost writes for or corresponds with the Mayor about.  However, while that may keep the public from seeing the advice he gives the Mayor, he willingly shares it with Outzen. 

Below is an email, where Asmar writing as the Mayor gives his opinion regarding Ms. Myers concerns about access (a concern I fully share by the way).  He labels this email Subject: Atty Client Privilege, a practice I'm sure he has done hundreds of times to keep documents from being subject to public records requests.

He writes " As Mayor, I have an obligation..." and sends what the Mayor is supposed to say to the public to the Mayor's personal email account.

But while Atty Client Privilege may protect his client, the Mayor, it doesn't help much when you email it the next morning to your master, Outzen.

The Mayor could bring Asmar up on charges for violating the Attorney Client Privilege.  I hope he does.

Outzen-Approves-Atty-Client-Privilege Document

Mack Application Must Be Forwarded to Outzen

Former Councilwoman Diane Mack recently volunteered for our City Audit Selection Committee.  She completed the online application for the role.  The webmaster forwarded it to the City Clerk and the Clerk's office forwarded it to CITY COUNCIL.  Asmar is not copied.

Evidently, John Asmar must be on the City Council distribution list because the next email is Asmar forwarding the application to his master. (Not Hayward)

Mack-Must-Be-Reported-To-Master

Asmar Withholds Information From Public Records Request?

Update: City Staff has updated the information requested on the District 3 email supplied as part of this harvest.  It was an email from Dr. Wu sent to Asmar and the original email was sent to a wide range of email addresses including inweekly.net.  The email was subsequently removed by Mr. Asmar from the final version of the public records request. 

Subsequent to receiving my public records data from the City, I asked for additional information on the number of hits my request generated in the City email system.  All emails from city accounts are recorded.  When public records requests are made, the City MIS department "harvests" the emails that meet the request then the email account owner is to review the harvest and "clear" the email for release.

When MIS forwarded me the list of harvested emails yesterday, I noted that a few of the emails between Outzen and Asmar were missing from what I received, including an email exchange between Outzen and Asmar with the subject "District 3"

Initial-Email-Capture

Last night, I emailed the City Clerk to request a copy of the email as well as a written explanation from Asmar as to why the email was not provided previously.

As Councilmember for District 3, I hope that the email has to do with the County Commission race for District 3, otherwise, I believe Mr. Asmar may have an issue for withholding public records.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Outzen Barks Orders; Is Asmar on His Staff?

"Get me a response from the Mayor on this email and my post" the master barks.
No please, no greetings, no thank you. Only expectations.

That is not the way anyone else I know asks for the Mayor's position but when it enables Outzen to attack anyone at the School District it becomes his number one priority.  Therefore it needs to be the Mayor's number one priority.

Also the order comes to Asmar's personal email account, jasmar@asmarlawfirm.com; not his city email.  Therefore it is NOT automatically retained by the City server.  There is no way to assure Mr. Asmar's compliance with my public records request for his personal email account but I'm sure he has provided all emails with Outzen from his personal account also as requested.

Master-Barks

Further insight as to why Outzen feels he can make demands of Asmar may lie in the following email.  John Asmar may be on Outzen's staff.  The email is a directive from Outzen to his staff regarding journalistic requirements.  Who comprises the Independent staff?

  • Rick Outzen, Editor
  • Jeremy Morrison, Reporter
  • Jennie McKeon, Reporter
  • John Asmar, ?
Asmar was the Independent News attorney in many recent public records cases and is just a contractor to the City.  Is Outzen still paying him as his attorney?

Outzen-Briefs-Staff-Including-Asmar

This is ridiculous. How can the Mayor stand for this?

The Society of Professional Journalists code of Ethics states:

Journalists should:

—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

You be the judge!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Repost of FIRE!

As I discussed on the radio this morning, the threats and attacks by Outzen include anyone who crosses John Asmar.  The following is a text from Outzen to Councilman Johnson.

Recently, Council President Sam Hall mentioned the threats of the Mayor's Staff for failure to support mayoral issues such as the recent DIB Loan forgiveness.


"President Hall claimed members of Mayor Ashton Hayward’s staff had pressured him—or “threatened” him—warning that he risked a bad portrayal in the press.

“We’d be the whipping boy over this issue and we’d be painted in the worst possible light,” Hall said he was told. “And I did not appreciate that.”

The threats appear to in fact be real and come not only from Staff but from a local journalist. I obtained the following text message via a public information request. It is a text message from Rick Outzen, Publisher of the Independent Weekly, to Councilman Larry B. Johnson.



Sunday, June 24, 2012

Outzen Before Hayward

In May, I asked for one email that I was told showed the games the Mayor's staff played with Council regarding the 2012 budget.  As part of that records request, I inquired 4 days later as to the status of my request being fulfilled.  What I found interesting about my inquiry is the following:
  • The email was a direct inquiry from a citizen to staff and the 1st email is from Asmar to Outzen at 7:37 am on May 22
  • Only after Asmar forwards the email to Outzen does he think about informing the Mayor at 7:38 am
  • Additionally, why would Asmar forward a public records request to the press.  Does he do this with other requests made by citizens?  Do not citizens have the right to ask for information without the press being alerted.
Asmar's priorities appear clear.  Outzen first!

Outzen responds laughing and stating that some of his requests have taken a month

Who's the Boss!

However, the following email shows that when Outzen makes a request at 2:04 pm, the staff is instructed to get to work on the request, and Outzen even gets a status email from Asmar at 5:44 pm on the same day as the request.

Quick Rick Service

Once again it is shocking to see the level of control and input Outzen is afforded. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Asmar / Outzen Port Policy Rollout

In January, the Mayor's office prepared to roll out its new port policy.  The final draft of the policy was distributed by Spokesman Travis Peterson to Derek Cosson, Public Information Officer, Bill Reynolds, City Adminsistrator, Mayor Hayward and John Asmar. 

In what will be a recurrent finding through this series of posts, Chief of Source John Asmar forwards the unpublished policy to "Independent" Weekly publisher Rick Outzen stating "Comments by today? Not for publication". 

At this point a new Mayoral policy for one of the most valuable assets of our community, unseen by anyone including City Council, has been forwarded to a "member of the press" for comment and input. 

Outzen responds "Will Ashton take questions? Has he briefed Council? How about Mathis?

Asmar responds "Will find out"

Asmar then under his city email account emails Peterson, Cosson and Reynolds "Will the mayor take questions? If so prepared?  Have you briefed council? Has Mathis been advised?"

Asmar doesn't say " Outzen wants to know...."  This leads me to conclude Asmar hasn't informed anyone else on the Mayor's team that he is leaking the policy and looking for comments and input.

Once Peterson answers the questions Asmar forwards the responses back to his master, Outzen.

This clearly shows that Asmar forwards City information to Outzen for comment, input and coaching.  Mr. Outzen lives in Gulf Breeze, has not been elected by the Citizens of Pensacola and is supposed to be a reporter of the news not a constructor of the news.  However, through John Asmar he exerts his influence over the policies and procedures of the City.  I find this unacceptable and expect Mayor Hayward will as well once he becomes aware how much information is forwarded to Outzen.

A curious aside are statements by then Spokesman Peterson.  These include:
  • "AH approved and vetted by his kitchen cabinet"  Who is the kitchen cabinet?    
  • The message is meant to "put dirty tenants on notice, helps us with downtown /historic folks, puts buddy (McCormick of Offshore Inland) on notice they better come through, sets the tone for what kind of industry we want."  What expectations does the Mayors' office have for Offshore Inland?  Is there an agreement?
On Monday I will continue to share additional examples of Asmar leaking internal documents to Outzen and Outzens influence over the City staff.

PDFs of Emails re Port Policy

Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Regarding Independence

Act Independently


Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.
Journalists should:
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Above are the standards of the Society of Professional Journalists regarding independence.  As you read the public records posted on this site, I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions regarding Rick Outzen and the "Independent News" and their actions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Outzen/Asmar Ties Deeper than Imagined!

The ties between Chief of Source John Asmar and "Independent" Weekly publisher Rick Outzen are far deeper than ever imagined.  A first glance through my public records request documents supplied indicate that:
  • Outzen routinely is consulted by Asmar on City of Pensacola decisions.
  • Items submitted by those questioning decisions of the City or seeking additional information are forwarded to Outzen.
  • Outzen is given drafts of press releases, policy documents and speeches for review and comment prior to the speeches or release. Outzen actually has input into the policies.
  • Outzen actually has input to the public relations spin of the City and Office of the Mayor.  He actually was consulted on the cover photos of the 2013 budget offering that a picture with an African American must be included on the cover.
  • Asmar routinely forwards internal city business emails directly to Outzen immediately upon receipt. In some cases prior to forwarding them to the Mayor's staff.
  • Asmar actually takes comments and questions from Outzen emails, places the comments and questions in an email from him and sends them out as his own.
From my preliminary review, it appears Outzen is in no way a journalist in regards to the City.  He is working lock step with Chief of Source John Asmar to direct the operations of the City and then reporting on the news that he helped create.

I will be posting PDFs of the emails over the next few days.  You can see the truth for yourself. 

I can not imagine the Mayor is aware of the degree of influence Outzen has on City decisions through Asmar.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thank you Mr. Mayor!

I was absent from the Mayor's speech Monday due to a previous commitment to teach Vacation Bible School.   I was very pleased to read that the Mayor will add firemen and restaff the City's Rescue trucks.  I also was pleased to read in the budget that the Mayor will make an objective of the Fire Department to "Replace Fire Station #3 within an effective timeline and within budgeted funds."

Thank you Mr. Mayor on behalf of District 3!