Former emergency management director files lawsuit against city of Columbia

Sunday, February 23, 2014 | 4:14 p.m. CST; updated 6:44 a.m. CST, Monday, February 24, 2014

COLUMBIA — Former city and county Emergency Management Director Zim Schwartze filed a lawsuit against the city of Columbia, City Manager Mike Matthes and Police Chief Ken Burton last week that argues she was wrongfully terminated in 2012.

Schwartze's petition claims she was fired after making comments critical of Burton during an anonymous police department review. She worked for the city for 20 years and was Columbia's first female captain of the police department. In 2009, she took on her role in the emergency management office.

In May 2012, Schwartze was called into Matthes' office and given 45 minutes to decide whether to resign or be terminated from her positions as director and captain, according to the lawsuit.

When she refused to resign, Schwartze was immediately terminated, her computer was confiscated, and she was not allowed to "even retrieve contact information for the professional contacts she had made over the course of her twenty-year career," according to the suit.

At the time, Matthes said the decision to relieve Schwartze was made for budgetary reasons.

Schwartze's petition alleges that her position had already been budgeted, approved and funded by the city, and the city experienced a $1.9 million surplus for the 2012 fiscal year.

Schwartze argues she was then repeatedly passed over when other jobs became available, including a captain's position equivalent to the one she was fired for because of budgetary issues four months prior.

According to the suit, Schwartze alleges an agreement was made in 2009 with then-City Manager Bill Watkins which stated that when it came time for her to retire in February 2012, she could choose to retire as police captain and remain emergency management director, or retire as emergency management director and remain as police captain.

When Schwartze discussed her intention to retire as police captain and stay on as emergency management director with Matthes in late 2009, he "refused to honor the agreement" and said "retiring from the police department and continuing as the director was not possible."

The lawsuit alleges breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, violation of due process, tortious interference with contract, and negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation. Schwartze argues she is entitled to no less than $451,280 in lost wages and benefits, as well as punitive damages.

Schwartze is now working as director of 911 emergency communications in Springfield, where she moved with her husband and children. The move caused great difficulty in her life, according to the suit.

"As a result of defendants' actions, instead of retiring in the home her husband and father-in-law built on the family farm ... Captain Schwartze has had to start life all over, in a new town far from her intended home," the suit states.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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dan elliott February 24, 2014 | 9:35 a.m.

Mike Mathes has proven he is willing to make tough decisions. Often the person who makes tough decisions without consultations will take measures to support their decisions. I thought it obvious in the manner in which Zim Schwartze was fired that ulterior motives were involved. I think it is obvious from the way the recent TIF was handled that ulterior motives were involved. Mathes has his ideas and he will bend facts to support them. If I was on the Council I would be loving faith in Mathes, as I have no idea if what he is saying is truth or bent facts to support his decision.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2014 | 12:49 p.m.

Unlike many commenting on this story in the "other" newspaper, I'm going to remain neutral. There's too much I don't know....or understand.

I will offer one perspective: If given the proper authority by their boss(es), new managers will surround themselves with those willing to support his/her goals. This is a good, proper, and wise thing. It is folly to hire/retain employees who will work against stated goals and cause problems.

I am not talking about hiring "yes" employees. I'm talking about managers who set goals, then hire and give employees the tools and latitude to get those goals accomplished in a satisfactory manner.

It is NO surprise (to me) Burton's arrival was accompanied by hues-and-cries plus changes in personnel. It was, and should be, expected. Status quo is NEVER the outcome when a new manager is hired.

Personally, I've been on both sides of this fence. In one case, I was the employee who could not and would not implement the goals of my new boss. I did not agree with him. In the other, I was the boss. Both times, the boss was correct.

(Report Comment)

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