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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Ocala City Council incumbents claim ‘hearts broken,’ allude to loss of votes in support of City Manager

Two Ocala City Council members that will seek reelection this fall cited a “broken heart” about the termination of its former fire chief, and one mentioned the likelihood of “losing votes” because of his support of Ocala City Manager Sandra Wilson’s decision. 

The remarks by Ocala City Council members Jay Musleh and Brent Malever were made during council meetings in July in which the group discussed the recent termination of former Ocala Fire Rescue chief Shane Alexander.

Alexander’s replacement, Clint Welborn, was hired on July 9. 

Statements made during the Ocala City Council meetings in July, as well as a letter issued by City of Ocala assistant city manager Ken Whitehead, are the only statements on public record from the city and its officials regarding Alexander’s termination.

Alexander was fired on June 25, 2021. 

Musleh and Malever, who both hope to defend their Ocala City Council seats in the upcoming election on September 21, were brief in their comments on July 6 and again on July 20.

“What’s happened in the last week, has broken my heart. I hate to see it, but at the end of the day, I’m going to support our city manager,” said Musleh during the July 6 meeting. 

“Ire, I may lose some votes tonight as well. That being said, I’m going to do what I think is the right thing, and the right thing that’s touched my heart,” said Musleh, referring to a comment by Ocala City Council member Ire Bethea, who said he would lose votes for supporting Wilson. 

During the July 20 meeting, Musleh indicated that an audit of the termination process found that the city followed proper protocol. 

After Bethea spoke at the July 6 meeting, council man Matthew Wardell, whose District 4 seat will be filled by special election this September, alluded to the same “vote” remark.  

“I don’t care about the votes, so I will speak from the heart” said Wardell, before suggesting Alexander’s firing was “inexplicable” and voting to terminate Wilson’s contract. 

Malever expressed similar comments to Musleh.

“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,” said Malever during the July 6 meeting.

In his remarks on July 20, he emphasized that he wanted the city to move past it in an effort to preserve “everything that we’ve worked for.”

“I just feel that this will go away one day. We just have to keep going forward, we can’t let it hurt everything that we’ve worked for. And what we’ve produced in this city,” said Malever.

Over the past two meetings, the tone from the five Ocala City Council members regarding Alexander’s termination and support of Wilson has shifted dramatically from seat to seat. 

Grabelle has been adamant that Wilson made a mistake, suggesting the city rehire Alexander and issuing a motion to terminate Wilson’s contract during the July 6 meeting. 

The motion to terminate Wilson’s contract was narrowly defeated 3-2. 

Wardell expressed confusion and disbelief during the July 6 meeting. During the July 20 meeting, he indicated that he wasn’t going to speak, but felt compelled to once Ire Bethea “lectured” the group, according to Wardell.

Musleh will face off against Russell Juergens and Ty Schlichter in the fall election, while Malever will face off against Barry Mansfield.

The Ocala City Council meeting will next gather on Tuesday, August 3, at 5 p.m.