PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — John Paul Jones, the man who filed a whistleblower complaint against Panama City officials, is himself a target of a separate whistleblower lawsuit.
Jones is accusing several city administrators of failing to follow purchasing and bidding policies, and inappropriate spending practices. But, one of Jones’ former subordinates is accusing him of the same type of violations.
Barbara Buccini worked in Panama City’s Logistics Department for around two months. But in that short time, she claims she saw enough to know some of her bosses and co-workers weren’t following the law.
As a Federal/State Procurement Specialist, Buccini says she noticed unlawful bidding taking place under the direction of JP Jones. Her whistleblower lawsuit claims Jones instructed her to acquire a vacuum truck but had already decided who would be awarded the contract. She further claims Jones instructed her to suspend the bidding process and to go along with his choice.
On another occasion, Buccini claims she observed two of Jones’ subordinates fraternizing with contractors before a bidding process. Buccini says she confronted Jones, telling him the behavior interfered with the bidding process and should be corrected.
She claims Jones told her to ‘play nice’ and support them. She refused and says Jones demanded her resignation that same day. It took two more weeks before the city fired Buccini, which she claims was retaliation for refusing to participate in malfeasance.
She filed her whistleblower complaint in October. Neither her nor Panama City’s Attorneys commented on our story.
But a closer look at Jones’ personnel file provides some new insights about his complaint, which involves the city buying more than $50,000 in Christmas decorations.
One document shows City Manager Mark McQueen had City Attorney Nevin Zimmerman look into the purchase after Jones complained. Zimmerman says, in his opinion, ordering the decorations followed city policy.
Last Friday, Zimmerman also wrote to the Mayor and City Commissioners about Jones’ termination two days earlier. Zimmerman says Jones was terminated for, among other things, harassing co-workers, and not for filing his whistleblower lawsuit.
In that letter, Zimmerman writes “A formal complaint was made to the Human Resources Department on December 3, 2020, against Mr. Jones for violating the Code of Conduct and the Harassment and Discrimination policies. The complaint stated that Mr. Jones questioned the complainant in a public place concerning the legality of the purchases of Christmas decorations in a manner that was both intimidating to and directed at the complainant.”
The city hired Allen Norton and Blue to conduct an investigation.
He later adds, “Based on the findings of the investigation and his own personal interviews with Mr. Jones, the City Manager determined that (i) the incident that was the subject matter of the complaint was in violation of the City’s Code of Conduct and Harassment and Discrimination policies, (ii) Mr.
Jones’ working style and manner of communication was not a good fit for the City and that (iii)
Mr. Jones refused to improve his communication skills and relationships with City employees.
Mr. McQueen then terminated Mr. Jones’ employment with the City.”
The city also says they do not believe Jones’ complaint is a whistleblower matter.