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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ocala City Council members disagreed with city’s reasons for terminating former Ocala Fire Rescue Chief

During their July 6 meeting, Ocala City Council members disagreed with City Manager Sandra Wilson’s stated reasons for terminating former Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Shane Alexander.

In a termination letter written by Assistant City Manager Ken Whitehead, the city claims Alexander “undermined Ocala City Council to the detriment of the organization,”

The city claims Alexander was “actively campaigning” to replace Ocala City Council members so that he “could be appointed the City Manager.” 

The city claims Alexander “eroded trust in the organization by creating a counter-productive and uncomfortable work environment for City staff,” as attested to by “several employees, including department heads and managers.” 

On July 6, Ocala City Council members and Mayor Kent Guinn debated the issues raised in the termination letter. The discussion ended with a 3-2 vote against terminating Wilson’s contract. 

Justin Grabelle: “I’ve been presented with no evidence [of Alexander undermining Ocala City Council]. All I’ve heard is hearsay, and then people point fingers…We can’t have a City Hall, run by rumor, good or bad. It has to be based on fact, and it has to be based on performance. And Shane’s performance evaluation reviews have been outstanding.”

Ire Bethea: “Shane is a good gentleman, but, Mrs. Wilson is the person that we hired to do this job…I can’t say whether Chief Alexander was politicking, because I don’t know…I know that [Shane] will land on his feet, because he is a good leader…and yes, I will lose a lot of votes, because I’ve seen a lot of people tonight that probably voted for me…my heart tells me, the information that I see, tells me there’s something there.” 

Matthew Wardell: “I was never told I was being undermined, I didn’t hear that from anybody before last Friday…To this day, I still don’t have any evidence that shows me as to why that happened…As far as the other issues that are listed here…if I’m a manager, and I don’t care if somebody has been with me 27 days or 27 years, and that stuff goes on for 25 months, 14 months, 5 months or more, and I don’t ever say a word, that’s on me. That’s not on the person who supposedly did those things. So I’ve got some issues with termination…I’ve got some issues with the lack of communication before Friday, and frankly, what I felt through a couple of discussions was a lack of a sense of urgency with understanding the severity of how this is affecting the city of Ocala or our ability to move forward.” 

Jay Musleh: “I’ve got to know Shane Alexander real well, and have a tremendous amount of respect with him. You cannot disagree with anyone who says he is a good guy…What’s happened in the last week has broken my heart, okay. I hate to see it. But, at the end of the day, I am going to support our city manager. I may not agree with the file and how it was constructed, I’m talking about the human resource file and the termination. But, you know, that is not our job, our job is simply, well, we got a number of jobs. And right now we’re being paid $200 a month, and right now it seems like the pressure cooker has been turned up four or five notches. But you know one of our jobs is to oversee the city manager and either hire or fire them. I don’t think two wrongs make a right. I don’t think to react, and say well you terminated Shane, and we can’t force you to rehire him, so we’re going to terminate you. I’m not in favor of that at all. I’m going to support our city manager. I may lose some votes tonight as well. Chief Alexander, I wish him no ill will, but I’m going to support our city manager.”

Brent Malever: “Everything I’ve asked Chief Alexander to help me with, he has done…I’ve known his father for years, and he’s a first class guy…it breaks my heart to see Ocala get into this situation. I like both people and it’s hard for me to say, but I’ll have to back our city manager.” 

After each council member spoke, Justin Grabelle made the following comments before making a motion to terminate. 

Justin Grabelle: “I don’t have much to add based on what we heard public comment wise…Oversight is our job, it’s really what we’re elected for. We’re not elected to hire or fire, we’re not even elected to make policy decisions. But, when policy decisions are important, they are brought to us for our input. This isn’t your typical hiring and firing in any way. You took an exemplary employee and took and threw as much stuff at the wall to see if it would stick. And frankly, it’s all weak. There’s nothing in there that is a fireable offense, especially not a rumor. And City Hall cannot be governed by rumors.”

While the City Clerk and City Attorney researched a Robert’s Rule dispute between Malever and Grabelle, Guinn offered his take.

Mayor Kent Guinn: “Obviously I have no vote in this, having sat here for 22 years, I’ve seen situations somewhat like this but not exactly like this. Some of the notes I was making here, like Matt says, where do we go from here. If you don’t have confidence in Sandra’s decision-making abilities, then how do you keep her, is what we’re talking about. One of the first things when she walked in my office, she said ‘I’m letting Shane go.’ I said ‘well did you talk to Shane.’ She said ‘No, if I did I just thought he would deny it.’ These business leaders that she says were complaining about Shane, they say ‘No, that didn’t happen.’ Firing him for idle time, in the city handbook, where’s the policy that says there’s a certain amount of idle time allowed per week, per month. Obviously, it doesn’t exist…Trying to undermine council’s authority, who said that, where did that happen? Where the people stepping forward that said that happened?…These are issues that are not fireable offenses. If there was a problem with Shane…tell Council. Hey, this is going on, I need you guys to know about this. Or I’m about to fire Shane, just wanted to let you know. Those are issues I have with this.” 

The Ocala City Council meets today at 5 p.m. at Ocala City Hall, which is located at 110 SE Watula Avenue.