Guinn: City manager may face call for termination
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn talks about the homeless problem in Ocala in his office at Ocala City Hall in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.
Guinn, who does not vote on council business but can comment, felt there could be a move to terminate City Manager Sandra Wilson for the handling of Alexander’s firing.
Guinn said Council President Justin Grabelle asked him if he would consider calling an emergency council meeting following the termination of the fire chief on June 25.While the emergency meeting never happened, Guinn said he thinks the issue will come up during the regular meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. There is no agenda item related to the issue on the agenda.
“I don’t know how he’ll handle it. Likely he’ll just move the city manager’s report to the top of the agenda, so it’s handled at the beginning of the meeting,” he said.
Guinn was unsure if Grabelle would have witnesses scheduled to speak on the matter but said it was likely that the particulars of the personnel decision would be discussed.
He said he never heard back from Grabelle about the emergency meeting but assumed that was because Councilman Jaye Musleh was out of town at the time.
He felt positive that Grabelle would handle the matter in a “more professional manner than we handled Paul’s resignation,” he said, referring to the circumstances surrounding Paul Nugent’s resignation in 2007 during a volatile city council meeting.
Guinn also shot down rumors that he was encouraging police department employees to show up at the city council meeting tonight.
“Well, you heard it from the source: I have not encouraged or instructed those at the police department to attend city council meeting tonight,” said Guinn, who oversees the police department.
Guinn said there are questions about Alexander’s termination.“Shane is protected by a firefighter’s bill of rights. I believe the Attorney General Ashley Moody may have even issued an opinion on this matter,” Guinn said.
While it was not immediately clear if Moody issued an opinion on Alexander’s case, there was an opinion issued by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth in 1989 in relation to fire chiefs and whether the firefighter’s bill of rights applied to them.
“In sum, I am of the opinion that: If the fire chief is certified in accordance with s. 633.35, F.S., and is employed solely within the fire department or public safety department of the municipality as a full-time firefighter whose primary responsibility is the prevention and extinguishment of fires, the protection of life and property, and the enforcement of the fire prevention codes and laws pertaining to the prevention and control of fires, then the fire chief would be covered by Part VIII, Ch. 112, F.S.,” Butterworth wrote.
The firefighter’s bill of rights includes due process procedures that require certain steps, including an investigation of the alleged misconduct prior to a reprimand, suspension or removal.
Neither Alexander nor Grabelle immediately returned messages on Tuesday.The details of Alexander’s termination were outlined in a letter by Assistant City Manager Ken Whitehead:
- Undermined City Council and the City Manager to the detriment of the organization. This was recently brought to the City’s attention by business leaders who are alarmed by your actions, i.e. actively campaigning to replace Council members so you could be appointed the City Manager.
- Eroded trust in the organization by creating a counter-productive and uncomfortable work environment for City staff. This has been attested to by several employees, including department heads and managers. This included pressuring employees to increase United Way donations, abandoning your co-workers during a town hall meeting where the Fire Assessment was discussed, and meeting with an employee without the director’s knowledge (the employee stated he was uncomfortable during this meeting, and the director was equally upset).
- An excessive amount of idling time and no record of City phone usage to support that you were working.
- Poorly managed internal grant procedures
According to the city charter, Alexander is a city employee and comes under the direct supervision of Wilson. The council only oversees the city manager, the city clerk and the city auditor. The council would not be able to reinstate Alexander directly. Any decision on the fire chief’s position would remain with the city manager or an interim city manager.
The mayor oversees the police department and has the authority to veto ordinances passed by the council. The council can override a veto by a four-fifths vote.
Shane Alexander was appointed fire chief in the fall of 2018 and later applied for the city manager position after then-City Manager John Zoebler resigned. The other applicants for consideration were the then two assistant city managers, Bill Kaufman and Sandra Wilson.
Wilson, who has worked for the city for more than 20 years and also served as deputy city manager under Zobler, was eventually selected city manager by a 4-1 vote. Grabelle was the dissenting vote.