Charges of Sexism, Favoritism Force Almaguer’s Resignation
Facing allegations of sexism, improper spending and favoritism, Florida Division of Emergency Management interim director Ruben Almaguer resigned late Monday but denied wrongdoing and said an investigation of his conduct would prove him right.
Following a series of allegations by a former employee going back to November, Almaguer resigned under protest late Monday afternoon, seven months after taking over for Craig Fugate, who was tapped in May to become head of FEMA.
In a laconic statement released Monday evening, Gov. Charlie Crist named interim deputy director David Halstead to head the agency, which coordinates emergency preparedness and disaster response for the state. It’s a high profile job in a state that regularly deals with hurricanes.
In his statement, Crist gave no rationale for his decision. Further, he said Tuesday the issue was closed.
In his resignation letter, however, Almaguer responded to a series of charges levied by former subordinates including Gwen Keenan, a Coast Guard veteran hired in January 2009 to become bureau chief of preparedness.
In letters to the governor’s office in November and December, Keenan listed a series of concerns and incidents that she said lowered agency morale and violated state and agency policies. She urged Crist to reconsider his decision to tap Almaguer to the lead the agency.
“The best historical equivalences I can find to equate the current atmosphere in DEM is life-in-the-Gulag-meets Mayor-Daley’s-Chicago,” Keenan wrote. “While I say this tongue in cheek, it captures the essence here where a culture of leadership, creativity and professionalism has been eroded to one of privilege, patronage and oppression in six long months.”
Responding to a series of specific complaints, Almaguer defended his actions and said he was instead being undermined by employees who simply didn’t like him, a South Florida “outsider” hired in January 2007 and never accepted into the tight-knit agency’s fold.
“The lack of gravity and merit behind these allegations expose them merely as groundless charges for purely personal gain by a few who desire to see Mr. Halstead appointed as director,” Almaguer said in an email to the governor’s staff investigating the allegations.
Specifically, Almaguer defended a directive that female employees stay in hotels rather than bunk down at regional warehouses during visits, a move instituted to save money.
He also denied overstating travel cost savings brought about during his tenure and his use of an agency purchasing card, saying he accurately stated travel cost reductions and followed agency procedures when making purchases including a Kindle and IPhone.
In his response to allegations, Almaguer also lashed out at his successor, saying Halstead had taken advantage of Almaguer’s vacation absence to fire DMS general counsel Tom Congdon and shake down other employees to see if they would remain loyal to him if Almaguer resigned.
Halstead was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. Agency spokesman Mike Stone said the new interim director would meet with reporters in the next day or so to answer questions. The agency is busy preparing a response to a major freeze expected Tuesday night and later this week.