WILTON MANORS – Ann Barnes, 60, the assistant director of the city of Wilton Manors Community Services Department, has been suspended with pay and verbally reprimanded after sending an email titled, ‘Proud to be White; Someone finally said it,’ to friends and co-workers from a city email account, on her city computer.
“The Proud to Be White” email is laced with derogatory characterizations and stereotypical slights of blacks, Asians, Jews, Hispanics, Arabs, Native- Americans, and other ethnic groups.
Barnes was placed on paid administrative leave from her $87,360 a year job following a racial discrimination complaint that she fostered a hostile work environment. The complaint was filed against her by the only black employee in her department.
“Everyone in the United States has privileges except the White race. They are the majority that made the U.S. what it is,” the email proclaims. “Now look what it has become!”
“This email is not putting anyone down. It’s a desperate attempt to keep what we have earned, not been given. I’ve passed this on, now please do your part,” it urges.
The May 6, 2008 communication was sent to several persons, including citizens and current and former elected officials in Broward.
At least one person reacted to the email with outrage.
City employee Chris Cooper forwarded it to supervisors with the remark, “I think this is very inappropriate!”
Even in the face of such complaints, apparently no action was taken until the South Florida Times began asking questions.
“You rob us, carjack us, and shoot at us. But, when a white police officer shoots a black gang member or beats up a black drug-dealer who is running from the LAW and posing a threat to ALL of society…You call him racist.”
“I am proud. …But you call me a racist,” the email continues.
With its rustic theme and pictures of white men clad in western attire sitting atop horses, the email also includes a photo of the late actor John Wayne positioned in front of an American flag, asking,
“Now just why in the HELL do I have to press ‘1’ for English.”
The email uses the N-word to describe blacks, the K-word for Jews, and a litany of other insulting terms when referring to other minority groups.
During a June 16 meeting of city department heads, human resources manager Dio Sanchez questioned Barnes’ supervisor, Wayne Thies, about the lack of consequences regarding the email.
City manager Joseph Gallegos then directed Thies to document the issue with a counseling memo that would be issued to Barnes.
Sanchez apparently forwarded a City of Wilton Manors employee counseling memo form to Thies on the same day, some time following the meeting.
“Wayne [Thies], Attached is the counseling memo form you requested during our meeting today,” Sanchez wrote in the June 16 email to Thies at 3:32 PM. “This is the form to be used to document the issues with Ann Barnes and Bill Banks, Sr.” [a Wilton Manors employee from a different department], it reads.
“Thank you,” Thies replied in an email sent just minutes later.
The completed form is stamped with the date ‘July 7, 2008,’ verifying when it was received in the Human Resources department. Barnes’ signature is dated July 7, but Thies’ signature is dated June 3, – 13 days prior to the city manager’s directive and Thies’ receipt of the form.
“I discussed it with her when it happened and I made out the form on June 3 when I discussed it with her,” Thies explained when reached at his office about the conflicting dates.
Calls to Human Resources Department manager Sanchez regarding the form’s content were directed to James A. Cheroff, an attorney representing the city. Cheroff did not respond to repeated calls or messages left at his office.
SUSPENDED WITH PAY
It has been learned that on July 7, the same date that Barnes was issued the counseling, she was also escorted from her office and placed on paid administrative leave regarding the racial discrimination complaint.
The complaint was filed by Lisa Wiggins, a 37-year-old Deerfield Beach woman who has worked as a technician with the city for less than six months. She is also the only black worker in the department.
Gallegos acknowledged he moved to suspend Barnes after the city was served notice of the racial discrimination and harassment complaint filed with the Broward County Human Rights Division.
The complaint alleges mistreatment, a hostile work environment, harassment and racial discrimination. It also claims that Barnes and another employee, Melissa Cole, yelled at, insulted, and refused to train Wiggins for the jobs she was required to perform.
When asked if any action had been taken in regards to Cole, who is also named in the complaint, Gallegos said, “Not at this time, but obviously she is very much on the list as one of the persons to be interviewed, and I can tell that book is not closed.”
Thies would not discuss the complaint, which also alleges that he ignored concerns of possible mistreatment raised by Wiggins; and that he, Cole and Barnes stopped speaking or communicating with her after the complaint was filed.
When informed during a meeting that Wiggins’ position was being cut, Thies is quoted as saying to Sanchez, “Good. That takes care of my problem.”
The complaint was then amended to include allegations of retaliation. Wiggins has since been reassigned until the investigation is completed.
“She is still with the city and is working as a very productive employee in the Leisure Services Department,” Gallegos said.
Citing the confidential nature of the complaint process, Wiggins declined to be interviewed for this story.
Barnes said she was not in a position to discuss the email or the allegations made in the complaint, either.
“I can’t talk to you, because we have a city policy that does not allow me to talk to you,” Barnes explained when contacted at home.
“I’m not prepared to discuss that at this time,” she said when asked if she was being represented by an attorney.
Mayor Scott Newton participated in some of the meetings regarding the issues. Through an assistant, he declined to comment until the investigation is completed.
A review of Barnes’ personnel file shows her tenure with the city has not been spotless.
Hired on Nov. 11, 1979, Barnes has more than 28 years on the job. In an Aug. 6, 2004 performance evaluation, she received a blistering, five page critique of her work and job performance.
“This employee has continuously neglected assigned duties to engage in activities to discredit the Director and other personnel,” wrote Harold Horne, her former supervisor and director of the Community Service Department, who has since retired.
“You continue to engage in divisive and insubordinate activities while your assigned duties are neglected,” Horne wrote, while detailing incidents of what he termed as insubordination, use of profanity, and yelling at him and others, including allegations of Barnes making false statements and providing erroneous information.
In addition to her work at the city of Wilton Manors, Barnes is the chairperson for the Florida Association of Business Tax Officials, Inc. (FABTO); an organization of tax officials employed with public agencies from around the state.
No one from the organization would comment on the email or Barnes’ suspension, including what, if any, impact it would have on her role as chairperson of its board of directors.
Pictured above is Ann Barnes.