Mount Dora police chief retires after allegations of hostile work environment, inappropriate relationship surface

Video: Mount Dora police chief retires after allegations of hostile work environment, inappropriate relationship surface

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — For the second time in a year, Mount Dora is soon to be without a police chief. Chief Robert Bell, who was promoted to the position less than a year ago, is retiring next week.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray learned the retirement comes just weeks after allegations surfaced about him creating a hostile work environment, and an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate officer.

9 Investigates asked his bosses, City Manager Robin Hayes and Mayor Cathy Hoechst, about the timing of those allegations in comparison to his retirement.

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Complaints dating back to June 21 or 23 were submitted to the mayor and later the city manager, and Bell announced his retirement on July 1.

One of the anonymous complaints stated, “this is an instance where you get the opportunity to witness an entire unified group of professional police administrators stand up to poor leadership, ethical violations, and bad judgement by our law enforcement leadership.” It goes on to accuse Bell of creating a hostile work environment by “continuously and regularly threatening personnel with lawsuits and discipline if they spoke about his perceived relationship” with a subordinate officer.

Hayes told Karla Ray no investigation was launched at the time.

“Having no factual evidence that anything occurred, there was no further need to do more of an investigation, to an allegation of any type of activity, but we did speak to the chief about it,” Hayes said.

However, the anonymous letters included detailed allegations about the potential relationship, stating Bell’s professionalism is “non-existent, and we have some serious ethical violations to consider.”

“It should be noted the entire command staff has requested I share these incidents with you, and we have taken a vote of no confidence for Chief Bell to properly lead this agency,” the anonymous writer stated.

Now, the city is launching an internal review of the police department, to be conducted by a new interim chief.

Channel 9 asked why that review wasn’t requested sooner, since the allegations were received more than a month ago.

“I take this very seriously, I have a commitment to the City Council and the citizens to address those items,” Hayes said. “It was timing, for how quickly we could get somebody on board,” she said, referring to the interim chief.

Hayes said if policy violations are uncovered, FDLE will be notified, regardless of the chief’s retirement.

After this story aired, Bell provided Channel 9 with the following statement:

“On July 01, 2020 I decided after 27 years with the Mount Dora Police Department, I am retiring as Chief of Police for the City of Mount Dora. The Chief’s job was not a position I sought. However I was honored to have taken that step in continuation of my service.

I will have many good memories of my time in Mount Dora. During my career, as I advanced through the agency, I was consistently rated outstanding in my performance evaluations, I was instrumental in the accreditation process within the Department, and I have been honored to be named the Lake County Officer of the Year.

In my brief tenure as Chief, I did my best to bring accountability and transparency to the Department, while working to help our police personnel to advance in their own careers. The stress of today’s climate and factions within the department have made the job extremely challenging at times, but it was a role I was proud to fulfill for the past year.

I understand there have been complaints made regarding my management style. Though I strongly dispute the details of the complaints that I have seen, I hope to see the department pull together as a unified agency. Discord within any police department is distressing and for me to see this in Mount Dora has been personally concerning.

During my career I have worked to create a strong police-community relationship that respects and honors the interests of the residents of the Northeast Community of Mount Dora. Together, we have accomplished much - and I promise to continue that relationship building beyond my retirement.

I have always strived to build strong partnerships and friendships throughout the city and am honored to have served each and every citizen.

Anyone who has worked for almost three decades in their field will look back at their performance, their words, or their actions and realize they could have performed a task, or a challenge more professionally in hindsight.

The environment today for police officers is more challenging than ever. Officers feel the weight of additional scrutiny from the community they are working to protect. It is their continued duty to perform the job of public safety with professionalism and respect for the community, and for each other. With the added stress of the Covid-19 virus, much has changed for all of us. I believe with the right support and the right resources, Mount Dora’s police department can weather all of these challenging circumstances, but I feel it is best for me to now step away from the Mount Dora PD.

I wish the citizens of Mount Dora, the agency, and the city administration well moving forward. I look forward to the next chapter that God has for me.”

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