Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Chief Jeff Collins has resigned amid lawsuits accusing the department of not properly handling allegations of sexual harassment.
Collins submitted his resignation effective Friday, according to a memo written by County Administrator Verdenia Baker, which stated Michael Mackey will serve as interim chief while a search is conducted for a replacement.
Collins has not said why he is resigning, and he could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday. He is stepping down as the department faces accusations that it fostered a culture of sexual harassment and racism.
Capt. Amanda Vomero and her supervisor, Administration Division Chief Joey Cooper, filed lawsuits accusing the leadership of failing to protect employees from harassment.
Vomero alleged in an Oct. 7, 2015 complaint that Fire Rescue Division Chief Chris Hoch taunted her in the office and made inappropriate sexual comments, saying “rumor is that” she was having sex with Cooper and that he was “a little offended” she wouldn’t have sex with him, according to the lawsuit.
Hoch said Vomero liked black men and “that’s why you want to hire all these black guys,” the suit alleges.
Cooper accused Collins of retaliating against him for participating in an investigation into the harassment allegations.
Collins, originally from Virginia, joined the county’s Fire Rescue department in 1996. He was promoted to chief in 2013.
“I appreciate the years of service Chief Collins gave to Fire Rescue and the people of our community, but am thankful he recognized the need for a new perspective and stepped down on his own,” said County Mayor Melissa McKinlay, adding she didn’t yet have all of the details surrounding his resignation.
The county has put renewed focus on sexual harassment following sex scandals roiling Tallahassee and the entertainment industry.
County Commissioners recently reinstated the Commission on the Status of Women, which was disbanded in 1995, to review policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment and other issues.