PANAMA CITY - Wayne Watts’ exit from the Panama City Fire Department happened faster than we expected.
According to his letter of resignation, submitted to City Manager Kenneth Hammons on Wednesday, Watts said he was stepping down effective November 11. But it turns out, Friday was his last day. Watts has cleaned out his office and left City hall.
Jerry Prater, who was the Panama City Fire Chief for 17 years until he retired last year, is coming out of retirement to serve as interim chief. He starts Monday.
Meanwhile, documents obtained by Newschannel 7 show there was trouble brewing within the Panama City Fire Department, trouble that may have led to Watts’ decision to resign.
In his resignation letter, Watts cited a need to be closer to family as the reason for his decision. But there may be more to it than that.
On October 10, Assistant Chief Byron Bennett, Division Chief Jimmy Talley, and three Battalion Chiefs, sent a letter to Watts, letting him know they were requesting a meeting with Hammons. In the letter, the department’s top brass said they had “serious concerns” about Watts’ outburst at the Quarterly Staff Meeting the day before. Watts apparently told them he was joking. But they didn’t take it that way.
The letter goes on to say Watts’ was “more than out of control” and said the outburst was “completely unprofessional.”
In their request for a meeting with Hammons, the chiefs said they were apprehensive about pursuing the matter but felt like they had no choice because “the overall health of our Organization is at stake.”
Six days later, Chief Watts announced he is stepping down after just a year and a half at the helm.