Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.
On July 6, more than 100 people packed into the cramped chambers of the Ocala City Council to voice their opinions on the recent firing of Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Shane Alexander.
City Manager Sandra Wilson terminated Alexander, a 27-year veteran of the Ocala Fire Department, for allegedly “undermining City Council and the city manager to the detriment of the organization…by actively campaigning to replace City Council members so he could be named city manager,” according to the termination letter authored by Assistant City Manager Ken Whitehead.
The letter also noted an excessive amount of idling time in his city vehicle and no record of phone use on his city-provided cell phone since April. Whitehead also noted Alexander’s “poorly-managed internal grant procedures” as a reason for his firing.
The decision to terminate Alexander has led to public outrage and created two distinct camps: Team Alexander and Team Wilson.
Some on the city council further fueled this division by seeking to terminate Wilson’s contract as city manager at Tuesday’s meeting.
As the meeting progressed, residents from all four corners of Marion County spoke. Those there for Alexander attested to his moral character and storied career. Others there in support of Wilson noted her strong work ethic and love of community.
More than a dozen citizens stood up to voice their opinions at this meeting, but Wilson was never asked to publicly explain her thought process in choosing to terminate Alexander. Supporters of former Chief Alexander cried for due process and justice, yet Wilson was not afforded the same benefits.
Throughout this council meeting, I found myself wondering, “Why?”
Why has a personnel decision become such a public spectacle? Why would Wilson’s termination serve as the antidote to Alexander’s firing? Why must the immediate reaction be “Off with her head!” in response to a decision the council didn’t agree with?
In their comments at the meeting, council members Justin Grabelle and Matt Wardell noted their belief that there was not enough evidence to support Alexander’s firing. They cited his unblemished, decades-long career as proof that he should have been notified of any issues and reprimanded accordingly rather than terminated.
I would note the same beliefs in regard to the proposal to terminate Wilson’s contract. There was simply not enough evidence to support her possible firing. She has been with the City of Ocala for more than 20 years, serving in a number of roles ranging from human resources to risk management. Her personnel file, like Alexander’s, is unblemished.
In her role as city manager, Wilson is responsible for the hiring and firing of city employees. Firings, except when they occur for reasons of criminal behavior or gross moral misconduct, are generally subjective in nature.
While her rationale for his termination may be in question, firing Alexander was Wilson performing the duty she was tasked to do when she was appointed city manager by the city council in 2020.
Wilson was able to keep her job in a 3-2 vote against termination; however, her credibility was undermined, and the city council appeared overreaching by making this matter fodder for the public.
While the council can and should disagree when they think she is off course, Ocala requires a city council that wholly supports its city manager. We need an Ocala that is managed by a city manager, not micromanaged by our city council. If they believed that Alexander should have simply been reprimanded and termination never an option, this same option should have been extended to Wilson as well.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” To terminate Sandra Wilson from her position as city manager as a result of her firing Shane Alexander would only cause our beloved city to suffer further.
It is my earnest hope that we can move past this fractured state and continue moving forward as one Ocala.
Have your own observations about Ocala? Share them with Sadie at firstname.lastname@example.org.