City management shuffle

File photo: Interim City Manager Peter Lee, right, listens with Councilman Barry Mansfield, left, during the Ocala City Council at Ocala City Hall in Ocala on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

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Posted May 4, 2022 | By Jennifer Hunt Murty

The Ocala City Council this week tied up loose ends related to last month’s surprising dismissal of former City Manager Sandra Wilson by agreeing to a severance pay amount for her while also signing off on the promotion of Peter Lee to interim city manager.

City council unanimously agreed during its May 3 meeting that Wilson, who was fired at the end of the council’s April 19 meeting, had been dismissed without cause and therefore was entitled to payment under the remainder of her contract, which was set to expire in October this year. The severance payout to Wilson totals $294,227. In exchange, Wilson signed a General Release of any claims she would have brought against the city related to her employment.

With more than 30-combined years of municipal government experience, Wilson was the first Black person, male or female, to hold the city manager post. Prior to taking over the top spot, she had been assistant city manager and director of human resources and risk management. As city manager, she received an annual base salary of $225,500.

Interim City Manager, Peter Lee

At the April 19 meeting, after Wilson was dismissed, Lee was appointed interim city manager. There was no council discussion of other possible candidates.

Lee has worked for Ocala in the growth management department for 20 years. He skipped past being a department head to being named assistant city manager on July 6, 2021, the same day former City Councilmember Justin Grabelle moved, unsuccessfully, to fire Wilson over her dismissal of then-Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander.

Parties involved in the 2021 action against Wilson confirmed to the Gazette that Lee would have been their choice for interim city manager had the vote passed that day. That promotion, however, boosted Lee’s annual salary from $85,000 to $150,000. As interim city manager, his base salary is $225,500.

The Ocala/Marion Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) had specifically requested Wilson promote Lee last year from working in the Growth Management office to assistant city manager. Wilson said that when the CEP made that request, she had already been considering promoting Lee because he worked well with and was liked by those in the business community. She said she had hoped the arrangement would facilitate economic development “wins” for the city.

At the April 19 council meeting, Ocala resident Brian Creekbaum asked if the council was considering performing a nationwide search for new city manager candidates, but there was no discussion of the question. Lee indicated later he did not know of any timeline for such a discussion.

When asked by the Gazette, Lee said he had not decided if he would apply for the position permanently. “I’m focused on the job at hand,” he said.

Under Ocala’s charter, the city council has the authority to hire and fire those serving in the positions of city manager, city auditor, city attorneys, and city clerk. Except for the police department, which falls under the supervision of Mayor Kent Guinn, the city manager has authority over all other city employees.

Assistant City Managers and CFO’s

The day following the surprise dismissal of Wilson, Assistant City Manager Bill Kaufman, who also served as the city’s chief financial officer, announced his retirement. His last day was May 4, 2022.

Emory Roberts, the city’s director of Finance & Customer Service, has been named interim CFO, according to Lee.

Additionally, Lee indicated he has appointed Director of Human Resources Chris Watt as interim chief of staff. Ken Whitehead, who has served as an assistant city manager since 2015, remains in that position.