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Lake City

Lake City’s Assistant City Manager Under Investigation: Will he dodge the bullet again?

"They are my grandkids, not mixed-kids."

Lake City Assistant City Manager Daniel Sweat with copy: Assistant City Manager Daniel Sweat, Did he make one inopportune remark too many?
Columbia County Observer Photo

LAKE CITY, FL – There is an insurrection mounting in Lake City against City Manager Joe Helfenberger’s latest pick for Assistant City Manager, Daniel Sweat.  Mr. Sweat began his employment with Lake City on November 2, 2020. Complaints against Mr. Sweat have been serious, and until recently, have been brushed aside by City Manager Helfenberger.

Background:  Daniel Sweat

Daniel Sweat came to Lake City via careers in the U.S. Navy and Gainesville Regional Utilities. Mr. Sweat served honorably in the Navy as a nuclear ship power plant operator and joined Gainesville Regional Utility (2005) and retired from there in December 2019.

In March 2020, Mr. Sweat received a Bachelor of Arts from St. Leo University. He majored in psychology, specializing in clinical counseling.

While working at GRU, Mr. Sweat received training in, among other things: "So you want to be a Supervisor,” sexual harassment training, diversity training, the role of a supervisor, and grievance procedures.

In October 2020, City Manager Helfenberger offered Mr. Sweat the Assistant City Manager position, subject to a background check. On November 2, 2020, Mr. Sweat began his executive employment with Lake City, as all management people do, with a six month probationary period.

Shortly after Mr. Sweat began, there were breezes coming from the City regarding Mr. Sweat’s management style, which was reported to be micromanagement with a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude.

A self-evaluation by Mr. Sweat, while he was at GRU, may have foreshadowed things to come in Lake City.

Mr. Sweat wrote:

"I am currently assigned to the Deerhaven Generating Station as the Production Manager. In the area of management skills I have fallen short during the past year. I must take responsibility for my failure to maintain oversight of the temporary employees assigned to the Deerhaven facility, under the supervision of the Facilities Department. It is because of this inability to maintain oversight and question the actions of this supervision that has led to the issues recently being investigated. This is also reflected in the scores for supervision."

Further along in his self-evaluation, Mr. Sweat wrote: "I do believe though, despite the issues surrounding the temporary employees and their supervision, that I have made strides at the Deerhaven facility to motivate others to excel. This is in part due to my use of interpersonal skills by exhibiting a positive attitude and enthusiasm. I have worked over the past year to foster open and trusting relationships with employees and have remained accessible to all employees."

Complaints Against Assistant City Manager Sweat

Complaint No. 1: “Her physical attributes are irrelevant to the topic” She didn’t know how to use a fire extinguisher.

Written complaints against Assistant City Manager Sweat began in January 2021.

On January 7, 2021, Mr. Sweat requested the utility department staff attend a mandatory vision meeting at the Price Creek Water Plant.

According to various reports, there were approximately 35 employees in attendance, including City Manager Helfenberger and IT Director Mandy Rand.

Natural Gas Administrative Assistant Diana Hunt was offended about what happened at the meeting, “As the meeting progressed into the safety topics, Mr. Sweat referenced an ex-secretary he had, he provided her name, stated that she had no teeth, and using hand gestures demonstrated that she was this short and this wide.”

Ms. Hunt continued, “The purpose for bringing her up was to say that she did not know how to use a fire extinguisher before a fire drill. She was taught how to properly use a fire extinguisher and that it may have saved her life. The relevant information was regarding her lack of knowledge using a fire extinguisher not her physical features.”

Ms. Hunt continued, “I feel that it was extremely inappropriate, discriminatory, and unprofessional for the Assistant City Manager to reference her in this way. Her physical attributes are irrelevant to the topic.”

Ms. Hunt followed Lake City's procedures and turned her complaint over to her immediate supervisor, Steve Brown, who apologized for Mr. Sweat’s remarks.

A few days later, on January 11, Utility Director Paul Dyal spoke about the complaint with Ms. Hunt. Mr. Dyal also apologized and said he would speak with Mr. Sweat.

Ms. Hunt reported in her narrative: “Mr. Sweat stopped by to see me a little after 12. He said that he did not realize he had offended anyone and apologized. He went on to say he did not really think anything of it because his wife is a larger lady, his son is larger and taller than him, and he is not that small. And even she referred to herself as 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.”

“I reiterated to him that I was offended and that it was extremely inappropriate to describe her, as it was not relevant to the information provided. At that point, there was no apology.”

Utility director Paul Dyal recommended that Ms. Hunt's complaint be turned over to the City Manager.

On January 21, 2021, City Manager Helfenberger received the complaint.

On February 8, 2021, Mr. Helfenberger ruled on Ms. Hunt's complaint.

In relevant part, City Manager Helfenberger wrote, "While I agree that Mr. Sweat’s choice of words was not appropriate, it did not rise to the level of a violation of City of Lake City Personnel Policy… I will take action to ensure Mr. Sweat only uses appropriate language in the future.”

Complaint No. 2: Director of Water Systems Mike Osborne,
Far ranging complaints

The second complaint against Mr. Sweat was filed by Mike Osborne, Director of Water Systems.

Mr. Osborne submitted his complaint to Utility Director Paul Dyal, who turned the complaint over to City Manager Helfenberger.

Mr. Osborne also complained about Mr. Sweat's remarks about the toothless ex-secretary.

Mr. Osborne’s narrative began: “January 7, 2021, Vision & Concerns meeting. Mr. Sweat gave a power point presentation. In the delivery of that, he made comment in front of employees that were improper and threating [threatening]. He has since apologized to one of them.”

Mr. Osborne wrote that after Mr. Sweat's presentation, Mr. Sweat "opened it up to questions and concerns." According to Mr. Osborne, he [Mr. Osborne] reviewed his concerns and asked questions provided to him by "Water Treatment Plant employees.”

Mr. Osborne's statement continued, “I then proceeded to talk with Mr. Helfenberger about Mr. Sweats' actions and explained that this is what we have been receiving from him on a regular basis.”

Mr. Osborne reported that he took care of some water-related business in the plant electrical room, and upon leaving the room, he was told that Mr. Sweat was looking for him.

Mr. Osborne wrote, “I went to Mr. Sweats vehicle were he proceeded to accuse me of being negative, and having a script in place to start trouble. He all but came out and accused me of going to the Press.”

It is clear from Mr. Osborne's narrative that he and Mr. Sweat were not getting along. It appeared that Mr. Sweat did not like surprise questions, nor did he like criticism, and he felt that Mr. Sweat used opportunities to diminish him in front of other people.

At one point in his narrative, Ms. Osborne said he would take a lie detector test to debunk Mr. Sweat’s accusations.

Mr. Osborne pushed back on having his speech, and that of his fellow workers throttled: “You will find that everyone here has knowledge to bring to the table. If included and listened to objectively in the decision making… I am the type of leader that will [sic] consensus, for the best outcome, when needed to, as long as it [is] lawful and ethical. However, on the other side I feel we need to express concerns for what is best for our employees and the citizens we serve. I allow my employees to do the same, and I don't feel it is right to be ridiculed or threatened for it.”

Mr. Osborne’s complaint package also had supporting statements from six employees who wrote freely.

Photo of the Lake City Utility Presentation Team. Left to right are Dan Sweat, Paul Dyal, and Mike Osborne.
See: The Report: Lake City Utilities, Where was it? Where is it? Where is it going?

One employee also noticed that Mr. Sweat took exception to a Columbia County Observer article.

The employee added, “All things considered, much of what was presented was beneficial leading to a safe work place. I understand that Mr. Sweat is trying to bring about some needed changes based upon his years of experience. That being said, one could subtract a few style points for the demeaning authoritarian tone of his presentation. However, I did witness something that I would not expect from someone with his experience and leadership. That being his obvious, uncontrollable dislike for a subordinate."

Another employee wrote: “Mr. Sweat started lecturing everyone in the room like we were six-year-olds, telling us who we can and can't talk to. I felt like he was bullying everyone… He made me feel like we were a bunch of idiots and he was better than and smarter than everyone in the room.”

Another employee wrote: “Mr. Sweat was immediately on the defensive. He was trying to repair his reputation from an online news outlet article in the Columbia County Observer. He then proceeded to tell the employees how to act and speak… What kind of message does [his] statement towards women and people of size, which is a violation of the employee policy manual [make]?”

Assistant City Manager Sweat Responds to Mr. Osborne’s Complaint

On January 20, 2021, Assistant City Manager Sweat responded to Mr. Osborne's complaint (in the third person).

Mr. Sweat wrote, "Mr. Osborne, at no time did Mr. Sweat initiate a verbal assault towards you, either during the question and answer segment of the presentation, nor when you approached his vehicle as he was leaving the site."

Mr. sweat continued, "I believe that it was only after you began asking inappropriate questions following the presentation that Mr. Sweat became embarrassed, therefore red-faced, by the fact that a person in your position of responsibility would think this was the time and place for this line of questioning and even after Mr. Sweat tried to indicate these questions were better served to be addressed at a later time did you continue with this line of questioning.”

Body Type

Regarding his remarks about body type, Mr. Sweat wrote, “Mr. Sweat was made aware of this on Monday, January 11, 2021, by Paul Dyal, the City of Lake City Executive Director of Utilities, and immediately apologized to the affected employee and asked for her forgiveness in this matter. The employee accepted the apology, and Mr. Sweat has accepted responsibility for this comment and will not make this mistake in the future.”

Regarding the accusation that Mr. Sweat accused Mr. Osborne of going to the press [the Columbia County Observer], Mr. Sweat wrote: "Mr. Osborn[e] indicated that Mr. Sweat accused him of going to the press. This is not the case, but Mr. Sweat did note that, based on some of the comments found in on-line media, that someone working within the City of Lake City was speaking to the media without Mr. Helfenberger’s authorization. This is the very reason why Mr. Sweat made it clear in the presentation that only Mr. Helfenberger or his designee were allowed to speak with the media to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Regarding questions from the utility staff asked by Mr. Osborne, Mr. Sweat opined that Mr. Osborne was not scrupulous in vetting the questions.

Mr. Sweat wrote that Mr. Osborne misrepresented the events and details of the January 7 meeting.

Mr. Sweat wrote that Mr. Osborne's misrepresentations "are very troubling and borders along the lines of severe insubordination. His false accusations are also disturbing and indicate an individual who has difficulty with authority, and will go to all measures to get his way."

On February 3, 2021, City Manager Helfenberger came to his decision on Mr. Osborne's grievance: “I reviewed your grievance and have determined the following. Mr. Sweat did have a poor choice of words during his staff presentations, but it did not rise to the level of violating City of Lake City Personnel Policy... Therefore, the grievance is denied. I will take appropriate action to ensure Mr. Sweat uses only appropriate language in the future."

Complaint No. 3: Water Plant Operator John Conyers

On January 20, 2021, John Conyers filed a complaint against Assistant City Manager Daniel Sweat regarding the January 7, 2021, Price Creek Plant meeting of the Utility Department.

Mr. Conyers wrote in his narrative: “I have never made a formal complaint against anyone I have worked with or worked for. However, at this time, I believe it necessary to bring to the attention of Human Resources, behavior that is offensive and not worthy of someone responsible for an organization such as Public Utilities as headed by Mr. Dan Sweat.”

Mr. Conyers also mentioned Mr. Sweat’s objection to the Columbia County Observer article.

Mr. Conyers observed Mr. Sweat’s management style, “It would go well for Mr. Sweat if he would work as diligently on providing an objective toward which we could all strive for, rather than denigrate those on whom he depends to get the job done.”

On February 8, 2021, City Manager Helfenberger ruled on Mr. Conyers's complaint: "… While I agree that Mr. Sweat’s choice of words was not appropriate, it did not rise to the level of a violation of City of Lake City Personnel Policy… I will take action to ensure Mr. Sweat only uses appropriate language in the future."

Complaint No. 4: Under Investigation and Undecided
"They are my grandkids, not mixed-kids."

Filed with the City earlier this month, the incident occurred at a December 11, 2020, staff meeting reportedly called by Assistant City Manager Sweat.

Background: During the December 7, 2020, City Council meeting, City Councilman Jake Hill brought up that none of the Utility Department employees present at the Council meeting looked like him. He also singled out one employee for special attention.

Councilman Hill is one of two African-American City Councilmen.

At the December 11 staff meeting, after discussing Councilman Hill's remarks, it is alleged the conversation turned to a discussion between Mr. Sweat and another staff member discussing biracial family members.

One of the participants, a high-ranking city employee, injected himself into the conversation because he "did not like the conversation direction."

He said that he had "several biracial grandchildren, and he had never thought of them as anything other than his "grandkids." He said that is the way he thought of them.

According to the employee, Mr. Sweat then referred to the children as “mixed-kids.”

The employee said he raised his voice, reminding Mr. Sweat that his “grandkids” is the way they “will be spoken about.”

According to this employee, Mr. Sweat made the “mixed-kids” reference a second time.

Also under investigation are other issues brought up by this employee.


Complaint No. 4, the “mixed-kids” complaint, is on City Manager Helfenberger’s desk.

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