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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Ocala City Council President says termination is a ‘disgrace,’ ‘easiest to rehire’ fired Ocala Fire Rescue chief

The Ocala City Council President called the recent termination of former Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander a “disgrace” and says he believes the city should rehire him “back into that role that he was thriving in.” 

Justin Grabelle, who will not seek reelection for Ocala City Council this fall, made the remarks during the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, July 20.

Multiple public comments were made asking that Alexander be rehired, while others lent their support to Ocala City Manager Sandra Wilson. 

Grabelle reiterated his, and the council’s, position on the matter once after public comment and another time at the end of the meeting. 

“I think council had a pretty frank discussion at the last meeting,” said Grabelle. “I think everybody knows where I stand on that.” 

Ocala City Council President Pro-Tem Justin Grabelle

Grabelle said the termination came as a shock and that Alexander’s “service to the community” had been exemplary and his performance reviews had been outstanding. 

“In reality, it has to do with sending a message to all of our staff, that if you are an exceptional employee, that if you are receiving outstanding PER’s, that you’re going to be raised up and supported by this council, number one, but also by city leadership,” said Grabelle, who suggested Alexander had impacted the community “far beyond the role of a fire fighter, or a fire chief.”

Grabelle believes that the easiest path forward is to rehire the chief.

“I think the easiest thing to do is to hire [Shane Alexander] back, make him chief. Put him back into that role that he was thriving in, and that the fire department was thriving under,” said Grabelle, before indicating that rehiring the former chief was not within the council’s authority. 

“Unfortunately, we don’t have that authority as city council. We can only provide oversight, and ultimately hold the three employees that are responsible to us accountable,” explained Grabelle. He said the vote from last meeting would stand, and then opened the floor to fellow council members who might want to reconsider.

None of them did, while council members Ire Bethea and Jay Musleh verbally indicated to “move on” to the evening’s next agenda item. 

During city council’s meeting earlier this month, Grabelle made a motion to terminate the contract of Ocala City Manager Sandra Wilson after hours of public discussion and a conversation among council members that called into question the reasons for Alexander’s termination. 

“I’ve been presented with no evidence [of Alexander undermining Ocala City Council]. All I’ve heard is hearsay, and then people point fingers,” said Grabelle during the July 6 meeting. He reiterated multiple times that Ocala City Hall could not be “run by rumor” before he and council member Matthew Wardell voted to terminate Wilson’s contract, which will expire in the fall of 2022.

“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,” said Grabelle.