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Sunday, September 12, 2021

Ocala City Council keeps City Manager after stunning motion to terminate

The Ocala City Council narrowly approved retaining City Manager Sandra Wilson after a surprise motion to terminate her contract.

During Tuesday night’s meeting of the Ocala City Council, a motion was made by Ocala City Council President Justin Grabelle to terminate Wilson’s contract. The motion was seconded by councilman Matthew Wardell.

Grabelle and Wardell said they both lacked confidence in Wilson to continue in her role, citing the recent termination of former Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander as “inexplicable.”

“I look at the termination letter and it says he undermined City Council. I was never told I was being undermined. I didn’t hear that from anybody before,” said Wardell

Wardell explained that he took issue with the “lack of communication” in the firing of the former chief, who was present during the meeting with his attorney.

After the other council members shared their support for Wilson, despite being similarly confused as to the termination of Alexander, Grabelle took the opportunity to make the motion on the grounds of this not being a “typical firing.”

“You took an exemplary employee and threw as much stuff at the wall as you could,” said Grabelle. Both he and Wardell say that the letter written by Ken Whitehead explaining the reason for Alexander’s termination was filled with unsubstantiated claims and paper thin reasoning.

“City Hall cannot be governed by rumors,” said Grabelle before making the motion that shocked the room.

The council voted to keep Wilson by a vote of 3-2, with Jay Musleh, Brent Malever, and Ire Bethea all denying the motion.

Although the council members disagreed on whether or not to terminate Wilson, all expressed a lack of understanding and confusion regarding the termination of Alexander.

According to multiple council members, they had no reason to believe Alexander would be terminated.

City leadership were officially notified of Alexander’s release on Friday, June 25, at 5:15 p.m. through an email.

“I may not agree with the file and how it was constructed…but it is not our job,” said Musleh, referring to the termination letter from Whitehead. Musleh said he didn’t believe firing Wilson was the right move because “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“What’s happened in the last week has broken my heart. I hate to see it, but at the end of the day, I am going to support our city manager,” said Musleh.

Mayor Kent Guinn, who doesn’t have a vote on matters but regularly comments on record, says he asked Wilson if she had spoken with Alexander directly about the firing. He said Wilson indicated that she hadn’t and that Alexander would “deny it.”

“These aren’t fireable offenses. If there’s a problem with Shane, someone should have said what’s going on,” said Guinn.

The motion came after multiple opinions from Ocala residents were offered regarding both Alexander and Wilson.

Although Alexander was present, he did not speak. Rather, an attorney that represents him took to the stand on his behalf. The attorney derided the characterization that many made, citing the idea that Alexander “would land on his feet” as a “profound mistake” for the city of Ocala.