Sandy arrives. Horton leaves. Portsmouth, VA’s emergency manager exits as storm hits. The latest on former fire chief’s ever changing employment status.

City of Portsmouth picture of Don Horton.

Previous cover of this story

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The big question in Portsmouth, Virginia, besides what impact Sandy will have on the city, is this: Is Don Horton is really gone this time?

Well, maybe the bigger question is this one: Why did the man in charge of emergency management make his exit at 7:00 Sunday morning with the hurricane churning just off-shore?

As we previously told you, Horton was fire chief in Portsmouth until July 24 when he suddenly turned in his resignation to return to Richmond due for what was described as a family matter. What wasn’t known to many local leaders and the public until September is that Horton remained on the payroll, apparently under the Family and Medical Leave act. A short time later he was seen back working for Portsmouth but, at first, city officials refused to tell reporters and local political leaders what that was all about.

After some pressure, the information was released that Don Horton was now in charge of emergency management, making $98,000 per year. It was a position that had not been in the city’s budget for some time.

One part of this drama that we missed is that City Manager Kenneth Chandler resigned last week, a day after members of the City Council demanded answers on this whole mess.

Now, Bill Bartel at the Virginia-Pilot has the story of Horton’s latest sudden exit:

“I think the timing is particularly unfortunate,” Councilman Steve Heretick said, referring to the approaching hurricane. “With an emergency looming, he is no longer in place. Fortunately we have trained emergency management personnel who are filling in. I’m incredibly disappointed.” 

Heretick confirmed that Horton resigned effective 7 a.m. Sunday. Heretick, along with Councilmen Bill Moody and Charles B. Whitehurst Sr., said they were told of the departure by the interim city manager, J. Brannon Godfrey Jr. 

Mila Mimica,

City Manager Ken Chandler then claimed Horton’s new job encompassed the job title of deputy fire chief. Councilman Bill Moody and other critics demanded answers from Chandler in two closed door executive council sessions, because the job was not in the city’s budget and was not advertised.

Chandler then offered his resignation Oct. 23 because he refused to put in writing what he told city council members on the circumstances surrounding re-hiring Horton. Chandler will be receiving nearly $192,000 in severance. 

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