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DEP employee not reprimanded for saying ‘climate change,’ agency says

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Department of Environmental Protection employee Barton Bibler did not receive a reprimand for violating Gov. Rick Scott’s unofficial prohibition on the term “climate change,” says an agency representative.

DEP Communications Director Lauren Engel responded Thursday by maintaining the censure was for “personal political advocacy related to the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“As stated in Mr. Bibler’s written reprimand,” Engel said in an email. “He was reprimanded for violating three DEP standards of conduct, including poor performance, insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee.”

On March 9, the DEP suspended Bibler, a land management plan coordinator in DEP Division of State Lands, after he attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum on February 27. The discussion, which included the words “climate change,” was entered into the official meeting record, according to a complaint filed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

PEER says that DEP superiors ordered Bibler to remove any “hot button issues,” including explicit references to climate change. The letter of reprimand accused Bibler of misrepresenting the “official meeting agenda (so it) included climate change.”

Bibler was told to take two days’ personal leave, charged against his personal time. Later, he received a “Medical Release Form” requiring a doctor to provide an evaluation of “medical condition and behavior” before Bibler can return to work.

The reprimand was not for saying “climate change,” says Engel.

“On March 2, Mr. Bibler was asked by his manager to attend the Coastal Managers Forum—an inter-agency meeting, as a representative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” she writes. “At that meeting, he engaged in personal political advocacy related to the Keystone XL pipeline — an issue that was not on the meeting agenda nor related to his job duties.”

After the meeting, Engel continued, Bibler failed to fulfill his functions as assigned in an “appropriate and respectful way.”

Bibler also failed to provide an accurate summary of the meeting after multiple requests by his supervisor, Engle says, instead responding in a “disrespectful and argumentative fashion” by merely providing an attachment with the “Keystone XL Pipeline” crossed out in red.

“While we respect all our employees’ personal beliefs,” Engel said, “We expect them to perform their duties in an impartial and appropriate manner and to stay focused and engaged on job-related activities during work hours.”

Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney, called on the DEP Office of Inspector General to open an investigation, to determine the propriety of handling Bibler, including forced leave and the directive to waive privacy rights to allow the DEP to review a physician evaluation.

“Due to HIPPA laws,” Engle added, “we cannot discuss an employee’s health.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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