Sarno Dismisses Aide, Is It Consistency or a Missed Social (Media) Cue?…
SPRINGFIELD—Darryl Moss, a longtime aide to Mayor Domenic Sarno, lost his job Thursday. The mayor terminated Moss in a letter that cited unspecified—but widely known—social media posts, echoing adverse employment actions the city has taken against other city workers due to social media. Much remains unclear, but this situation thus far does not entirely parallel these prior instances.
While Moss is at the center of this episode, the broader season of social media imbroglios dates back to 2017. That year the city established a social media policy, following the revelation of vile messages various city employees posted. The impact on police officers has gotten the most attention. That, alongside demands for reform post-George Floyd and muddied administrative approaches, produce a messy context around Moss’s dismissal.
Moss’s offending posting was a share of a Huffington Post article about Donald Trump’s defense of the shooter who alllegedly killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin during Black Lives Matter protests. Moss added the following text, “This is equal to a declaration of war…but this is America! Sundown Sunrise ass Country…” After tagging a friend of his, Moss continued, “grab the rifles!”
The language is a reference to the television show Lovecraft Country, which is set in the 1950’s. Sundown towns, which exclude people of color after nightfall, feature in the first season.
Compared to the relatively unknown police officers and firefighters the policy has swallowed up, Moss is a prominent figure, especially in Springfield’s Black community. Moss has worked for Sarno since the infancy of the mayor’s reign. He became constituent services director amid a staff shakeup last year. Moss has also served as deputy communications director.
Although City Hall announced Moss’s termination this morning, as of Thursday evening the city website still lists him as mayoral staff.
While City Hall denizens have mixed impressions of him as a mayoral staffer, few doubt his reach and work outside of the building. Fewer still discount his prominence as an activist in the community and the arts. Perhaps critically, he appears to have trust across the various elements of Black Springfield.
This was on full display on Wednesday when Moss held a rally with Black religious figures, community leaders, professionals and residents. Many credited Moss with defusing tensions between City Hall and the community, even as he remained a loyal aide to Sarno.
“Darryl Moss has done nothing but good for the city, nothing but good for this community,” said Johnny Mohammed of Mosque #13. “He has stood by [Sarno] for 12 years, 12 years, keeping the community at bay keeping violence down in the community. The reason why the city has not blown up is because Darryl Moss has his hand on the community.”
At-large Councilor Tracye Whitfield and Ward 1 Councilor and State Senator-tantamount-to-elect Adam Gomez were among those on hand supporting Moss. Whitfield, currently the Council’s only woman of color, claimed the attention was turning to Moss “because they want to change the narrative.”
“They want to take the attention off of the DOJ report, they want to take the attention off of the defacement of the black lives matter mural,” she said.
Bishop Talbert Swan, II, president of the Springfield NAACP, compared the investigations into Moss to those J. Edgar Hoover once initiated. He also criticized Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood for not taking racism at Pearl Street seriously while noting Moss served as a buffer.
“Darryl Moss has stood in the gap between the police and the community,” Swan said.
Speakers alleged that police resources were reviewing Moss’s social media. The mayor’s office confirmed earlier this week that Moss’s Facebook post was facing human resources scrutiny. Swan wondered how the probe of Moss’s social media became public.
“Here’s my question,” he said. “How come it is that rogue police officers who are guilty of corruption don’t find themselves in the newspaper with an announcement that you’re doing an investigation on them?”
Moss mostly let others speak for him, including the reading of a statement about the Facebook post. However, they provided few specifics and took no questions after the rally.
In addition to accusations of deflection and retaliation over Pearl Street’s troubles of late, Moss supporters vaguely referenced City Hall chicanery. Political watchers point to conflicts within the mayor’s office itself. That, if true, would imply some mayoral management issue.
Moss himself did not respond to an email on Thursday requesting comment on his termination.
On Thursday, the mayor only asserted that Moss had violated the social media policy. During a press conference on the city’s deteriorating to the red COVID-19 zone, Sarno declined to comment calling it a personnel matter. If more is afoot, nobody is volunteering anything.
Speakers also took issue with press coverage of the situation, arguing that The Republican story on Moss’s social media contained errors and failed to include sufficient context, namely the reference to Lovecraft Country.
Other city employees have lost their jobs over the errant social media postings.
Among them were Conrad Lariviere, who posted a comment seemingly endorsing the ramming of demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia—a woman was killed there—and Florissa Fuentes, a city detective fired after posting a photo to Instagram. The photo showed her niece at a Black Lives Matter protest holding a sign that read “shoot the fuck back.”
In July, an unidentified Springfield firefighter posted an image of a truck painted blood red along its hood. The post, shared from another individual, styled the vehicle as a Ram “protester edition,” a sick parody of a Dodge truck. Though City Hall never disclosed the nature of the post, a Sarno spokesperson described the mayor as “livid and disappointed.” The firefighter filed for retirement later that month.
Springfield’s personnel office confirmed the policy in effect today is the same Sarno enacted via executive order in 2017. The City Clerk told WMP&I no succeeding EOs have amended the policy.
Application of the policy can be complex. Collective bargaining agreements protect many employees. Not all bargaining units have agreed to adopt the policy, although some have. Other factors are at play, too.
When Lariviere’s Charlottesville post came to light, the social media policy was not even in effect. However, police officers have a code of conduct that was sufficient to sustain his termination during arbitration. Fuentes had not been in the department long enough to have Civil Service protections. She has filed suit over her dismissal, however.
Moss has no such civil service or collective bargaining protection. As a mayoral aide, he is essentially a political appointee, entailing somewhat fewer protections. Of course, terminating mayoral staff may present their own political ramifications.
Although termination is possible for violations of the social media policy, it leaves discipline to individual departments to determine. However, the policy language suggests weighing the potential for discipline against the impact of an employee’s social media upon an employee’s job performance, another employee’s job performance, the public and third parties or the interests of city departments.
Given departments’ discretion, city employees’ errant social media may not always lead to the ultimate punishment. Moss’s fate may or may not be consistent, especially when the policy is not as clear as it seems. Many of its prohibitions have no bearing on the most publicized terminations. The section about unlawful harassment or discrimination does, but .
Yet, Moss’s department was the mayor’s office. The potential for conduct to affect work performance or the city could apply more broadly than may be legally practical in another department. Still, comparison to other social media spats may be insufficient. Discipline under this policy does not exist in a personnel vacuum.
Last year, Sarno’s then-communications director Marian Sullivan went on a booze-fueled tirade at MGM. This entailed calls to the Police Commissioner and other city officials. (State police patrol casino interiors rendering her appeals to higher city authorities moot).
Although Sarno suspended her, she did not lose her job immediately. Rather, he waxed sympathetic toward Sullivan even though she arguably brought considerable disrepute upon his office.
“I am hopeful that she will seek the help that she seems to need and we will be supportive of that effort,” Sarno said at the time.
Sullivan resigned some weeks later.
Meanwhile—on social media no less—much reaction to Sarno’s dismissal of Moss has been negative. However, many questions remain and much more will unfold.
In retrospect, Moss probably knew Wednesday evening what lay ahead. In the few remarks he offered personally, Moss exhorted people to vote, including in the upcoming election. That was not all, though.
“We have to put ourselves in positions to be voted for,” he said. Moss added, “I’m going to close with this. Prepare to vote for me.”