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Monday, September 27, 2021

Ocala City Council president cites need for ‘public discussion’ before surprise motion to terminate City Manager

Ocala City Council President Justin Grabelle said he believes the city can not be “run by rumor” and favors a “discussion in public” about the termination of former Ocala Fire Rescue chief Shane Alexander during Tuesday’s Ocala City Council meeting. 

Then Grabelle made a motion to terminate the contract of City Manager Sandra Wilson. 

The City of Ocala did not include an agenda item for the potential termination of Wilson.

The city is required to publish public notice of every Ocala City Council Meeting in advance, which includes a list of items for discussion. 

Although Grabelle is completely in his right to make a motion regarding any topic, a fact he emphasized during a brief disagreement about Robert’s Rules of Order with councilman Brent Malever, the idea of making such an important motion without first notifying the public runs counter to the idea of having a “discussion in public.” 

A public discussion would call for residents of Ocala to be notified in advance when the Ocala City Council is considering the termination of its second executive figure in less than two weeks.

Multiple residents complained about the lack of public notice during Tuesday’s meeting.

Kendall Vernon said he found out earlier in the day about the possibility of an “impromptu firing of [Wilson]” by comments from Mayor Kent Guinn.

“You’ve got a woman worried about her job because of cronyism, and we’ve got an elected official threatening to fire her,” said Vernon, suggesting that if the call for termination was valid, the entire community needed to know. “If you’re going to call for her job, let us all know.” 

Kathy Crile, who recently retired from her position as Recreation and Parks Director, said she was only in the audience to support her former employees and was shocked that this item had somehow come up for discussion.

“I didn’t realize that there would be a conversation about Sandra’s job. Or that Shane would be here. I care a lot about these people, and a lot about this city,” said Crile. She went on to suggest that Wilson, Alexander, and Assistant City Manager Ken Whitehead were all three people that “really care” about the city of Ocala and that this was a tough situation for the city. 

“Whatever decision you have to make, you have my support,” said Crile while addressing Wilson.

In order to have a “discussion in public” about the chief’s firing or the termination of Wilson, staff and Ocala City Council could schedule the item for this or another meeting. 

Public notice is a key function to democracy. It keeps residents informed as to a city’s meetings and discussions on issues that impact its neighborhoods and residents. 

Grabelle categorized Alexander’s firing as not a “typical firing.”

Had Ocala City Manager Sandra Wilson been fired without sufficient public notice or an agenda item regarding Wilson’s termination, that would not have been a “typical firing” either. 

Councilman Jay Musleh was of the same mindset.

“I don’t think two wrongs make a right,” said Musleh, explaining that he didn’t believe the council should react to the termination of one employee with that of another. “I don’t agree with that at all.”

City of Ocala residents that showed up to Tuesday’s meeting did so because of comments they heard earlier in the day from Kent Guinn to a local, monthly newsletter. 

Mayor Guinn has no voting power on the council and cannot introduce motions. 

Essentially, residents showed up to offer support and confidence behind Sandra Wilson because of “hearsay” from Mayor Guinn. 

“This meeting is not a surprise to anybody today,” said Grabelle, who referred to the meeting as “regularly scheduled.”

“We need a city council or a city hall that’s not, in my opinion, run by rumors,” said Grabelle. 

Grabelle and council man Matthew Wardell cast the two votes in favor of terminating the contract of City Manager Sandra Wilson. 

Neither Grabelle nor Wardell will seek reelection this fall.