Details of Alexander’s firing continue to emerge

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Posted July 1, 2021 | By Carlos Medina

Shane Alexander [File photo]

Details continue to trickle out after Shane Alexander was fired from his post as fire chief of Ocala Fire Rescue on June 25.

Alexander was fired for actively campaigning to replace Ocala City Council members so he could be appointed city manager, according to his termination letter.

But the letter, signed by Assistant City Manager Ken Whitehead, also listed other reasons for his dismissal, including poorly managed internal grant procedures.

On June 30, the city released more information concerning that issue.

“The City was initially contacted May 3, 2021 from another governmental agency concerning problems with a $558,736 grant award managed by Ocala Fire Rescue. This communication prompted the City to investigate the origin, approval and management of the grant.  This investigation was still ongoing at the time of Shane Alexander’s termination; however, the details confirmed were sufficient enough to establish that certain internal city procedures were not followed by Ocala Fire Rescue,” according to an email from Ashley Dobbs, a city spokeswoman.

The details were not immediately released.

In the termination letter, Whitehead did not detail how he actively campaigned to replace council members but did state several business leaders brought the matter to the city’s attention and were “alarmed by your actions.”

In an email Ken Ausley and Angie Lewis sent to City Manager Sandra Wilson and the five members of the city council on June 27, they raised concerns that they were the business leaders mentioned in the letter.

The pair met with Wilson on June 22.

“If it is our meeting that is being referenced we are stunned.  In no way did we ever suggest or insinuate that Chief Alexander had involvement in anything of the sort.  We did clearly state that there are business leaders who are actively recruiting and funding candidates that they believe will help fix some of the perceived deficits at the City.  But this is typical of any campaign season and a fact well known to most who are paying attention to the political process,” the email states. “Related to the brief part of our conversation when you brought up Chief Alexander by name, we did respond that there is a perception among some that he, in his zeal to serve the City and prove his mettle as a leader, may at times be perceived as stepping out of his lane of responsibility.  But we in no way stated or inferred that any of this supposed conduct, of which we have no firsthand knowledge or experience, was harmful to the City or justified even an official reprimand, much less a dismissal.”

The city did not directly address the email on Thursday.

“As it relates to Mr. Alexander’s termination, Ms. Wilson stands by the conclusions derived from the performance issues identified in his termination letter, along with feedback received from several local business leaders,” Dobbs wrote.

A review of Alexander’s personnel file also did not shed light on the claim made in the letter.

However, the review did reveal additional details about other incidents cited in Alexander’s termination letter.

The letter stated that several employees, including department heads and managers, reported that Alexander pressured employees to increase United Way donations. The incident reportedly happened in early 2020 but was not documented until April this year. Marvin Ayala, the current Ocala Electric Utility director, mentioned the incident to Assistant City Manager Bill Kauffman, who then reported it to Whitehead.

Alexander reportedly told Ayala and Eric Weaver, then interim utility director, that the electric department was “not doing that well” with United Way donations and “if you don’t cooperate, you’re at risk.”

Weaver reportedly asked Alexander if he was threatening their jobs at which point Alexander backed down, according to a handwritten report of the incident by Whitehead dated April 28.

In February 2020, Alexander was one of three finalists selected for city manager after then-City Manager John Zobler stepped down unexpectedly. Then-Interm City Manager Wilson and Assistant City Manager Bill Kauffman were the other two candidates.

Ayala said the incident happened about the same time the council was considering the new city manager, according to the item in Alexander’s personnel file.

When it came time to select one candidate, the council split. Councilmen Justin Grabelle and Matt Wardell backed Alexander, then-President Jay Musleh wanted Wilson, and Councilman Brent Malever picked Kauffman. The council’s fifth seat was open at the time, and the council agreed to wait for a special election to fill the seat before voting.

After Ire Bethea was installed into the District 2 seat in June, the council voted 4-1 to offer the position to Sandra Wilson. Grabelle was the only dissenting vote.

Alexander was also accused of abandoning co-workers during a heated town hall meeting where the city’s fire assessment was discussed.

The meeting was hosted by members of the Governor’s West Ocala Neighborhood Revitalization Council. Alexander was scheduled to speak about the agency’s mentorship program and Budget Director Tammy Haslam was going to discuss the fire assessment fee.

During Haslam’s presentation, the discussion got heated and Alexander reportedly left. Both Haslam and Ramona Williams, the city’s community engagement coordinator, felt his support would have been good during the discussion.

“He left when the going got tough,” Haslam reportedly told Whitehead, according to a handwritten account of the incident.

On June 24, just a day before Alexander was dismissed, Whitehead, in another handwritten note, documented how Alexander met with a city employee without John King, the city’s fleet management’s director, in attendance, as was typical.  The meeting reportedly made the employee uncomfortable and upset King, according to Whitehead’s note.

Before the recent spate of reprimands all dated this year, Alexander’s performance reviews were at or above standard.

Whitehead also listed an “excessive amount of idling time and no record of city phone usage to support that you were working.”

The “idling” time item is related to the amount of time Alexander’s vehicle remained stationary while the engine was running. A detailed report about his vehicle listed 114 idle violations from March 26 through June 24 ranging from more than 10 minutes up to almost three hours. City vehicles should not remain idle for more than five minutes. Phone records also showed Alexander had not used his city-issued cellular phone since at least April, and only one bill in the last 12 months showed phone activity, according to records.

City policy requires employees to use their city-issued cell phones for official business because they are subject to public information requests, said Jared Sorensen, the city’s director of human resources.

Whitehead, who oversees public services for the city, wrote Alexander’s actions undermined the city council and the city manager to the detriment of the organization, and his actions created “a counter-productive and uncomfortable work environment for city staff.”

Overall, Whitehead wrote he had lost confidence in Alexander’s ability to continue as fire chief after several instances of unprofessional conduct. City Manager Wilson accepted Whitehead’s recommendation to terminate Alexander.

“I am deeply saddened that you sought to pursue a course that was counter to the council’s direction and the good of the organization,” Whitehead wrote.

Alexander declined to comment on the details of his termination but said he wanted to continue serving the community.

Alexander became fire chief in October 2018 at a salary of $125,000. He joined the department as a firefighter paramedic in 1994.

Past Chiefs’ Tenures:

  • Shane Alexander: Oct 15, 2018 – June 25, 2021. City administration cited they had lost confidence in Alexander’s ability to continue as fire chief after several instances of unprofessional conduct.
  • Bradd Clark: Feb. 1, 2012 – July 28, 2018. Clark resigned after 83 of 90 members of the Professional Firefighters of Ocala union gave him a no-confidence vote. Firefighters complained of bullying, retaliation and breaks in chain of command under Clark.
  • John DeLorio: Jan. 19, 2011 – July 21, 2011. DeLoria was reassigned on his request after his performance as chief fell short of expectations.
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