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Hostile work environment cited as reason for resignation of Huntingburg’s safety director

Huntingburg’s Director of Safety Risk Management announced his resignation at Thursday’s regular meeting of the Public Works and Safety Board.

James Hopf was hired last September to replace Travis Gentry who assumed the responsibilities after the city’s first director of security, Don Foerster, retired in 2019.

In announcing his resignation, Hopf said he felt he had worked in an increasingly hostile work environment as he tried to carry out his duties. Hopf told the council he was required to submit a weekly log of his activities to the mayor. In January, this diary was to include hour-by-hour details of his activities.

“To my knowledge, other superintendents are not asked to do the things that are asked of me and they are not monitored the way I am monitored,” Hopf told the board.
“I feel like I’m being mistreated…and working in a somewhat hostile work environment.”

Hopf also said he’s been yelled at on occasion and told he doesn’t need to be on construction sites because he’s a distraction.

“I feel like all I do is walk on eggshells for fear of doing something wrong or saying something that I think could be criticized by the office manager or the mayor,” he said.

Hopf stressed the importance of having a director of security supported by all city leaders. “Not one who is shouted at, belittled and insulted,” he said before telling the board he was stepping down.

After offering his resignation, Hopf said he returned to Huntingburg to try to help make a difference and get involved in the community. The 31-year-old is a candidate for Patoka Township Council in November’s midterm elections.

He told the board that the city was suffering from the effects of a “good old boy system.” He added that the board, council and city leaders need to do better.

“You guys on this council and the council that represents Huntingburg, Indiana, have [sic] do better,” he said. “We have to hold people accountable for a period, hands down, or we’re going to fail Huntingburg.”

The board has not commented on Hopf’s resignation or claims.

“There were some differences of opinion about how he was supposed to do his job,” Mayor Steve Schwinghamer said in a separate interview. “I think he wanted to check some things. That’s fine, but this probably wasn’t the right place to do this.

The mayor said he would not comment on Hopf’s statements, adding that not everything was true. “It was a public meeting and some things that are internal should be kept internal until all the facts are known,” he said. “But, unfortunately, that was not the case.”

During his resignation announcement, Hopf also said he was told the city was considering reducing the security position from full-time to part-time.

“I was approached by the mayor a few weeks ago and told my position was under review to become part-time,” Hopf read to the board. “In my opinion, the security service is heading in a dangerous direction.”

Mayor Schwinghamer confirmed that the city is considering this option. He explained that he was moved full-time while Don Foerster was the manager.

“But looking at the position and the time and hours spent on that particular job, it definitely wasn’t 40 hours,” Schwinghamer said.

“It was discussed to see if it was something that was doable,” he added, saying the discussion was overdone.

After the meeting, Hopf said he did not feel he could perform his duties appropriately in the work environment and demands placed on him. He added that the straw that broke the camel’s back was an argument with the mayor that happened on Wednesday morning when he was told to shut up and grow up.

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