Ocala city manager put on chopping block during council meeting

City manager Sandra Wilson terminated fire chief

During a contentious meeting, the Ocala city council voted against firing the city manager.

OCALA, Fla. – The Ocala city council is trying to figure out how to move forward after the firing of Ocala’s fire chief nearly two weeks ago.

“We think about what our next steps are, and I don’t think anybody is sure what our next steps are,” Mayor Kent Guinn said.

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While parts of Ocala were under a tropical storm warning Tuesday evening, community members packed city council chambers. Dozens of residents lined up for public comment. Some asked for the reinstatement of the fire chief, while others called for the firing of the city manager.

“Where was the due process and where did we give Shane (Alexander) an opportunity to correct his actions, if there were any actions to correct,” said one resident.

“I’m disappointed to hear we’re even here talking about Sandra (Wilson’s) job. I hate this is even playing out in the public,” another resident said.

After public comment, council president Justin Grabelle made a motion to terminate city manager Sandra Wilson’s contract. The move comes nearly two weeks after Wilson terminated Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander. The termination letter accuses Alexander of “unprofessional conduct on several occasions” including undermining city council and the city manager... creating an uncomfortable work environment.”

Guinn said the firing came as a surprise to him and many of the other council members.

“I was shocked. Miss Wilson came in here and told me he’d be terminated that day. I asked if she talked to him about it and she said, ‘No, he’ll probably deny it,’” Guinn said.

After Grabelle made the motion to terminate Wilson’s contract, there was some discussion with the city’s lawyer about whether or not the council president could make a motion, as part of Robert’s Rules. Grabelle ended up passing the gavel to properly make the motion. Councilman Matthew Wardell seconded the motion.

Before a vote on whether or not Wilson would keep her job Tuesday night, Alexander’s attorney made a statement.

“The decision to fire Shane came without due process as required by the constitution, which means giving Mr. Alexander notice about the accusations and giving him an opportunity to be heard,” Paul Donnelly said.

City council went to a vote, with only two yeas from Grabelle and Wardell. The majority backed Wilson, so she will continue as city manager.

“Now you’ve got an awkward situation on council,” Guinn said. “With a split.”

Keep in mind, Guinn isn’t a voting member of the council since he is mayor.

Alexander has been a firefighter with the Ocala fire department for more than 20 years and was promoted to fire chief in 2018. Wilson was appointed as city manager in 2020.

News 6 reached out to Wilson for comment, but she hasn’t replied.

Alexander’s attorney said Alexander wants his job back and hasn’t said whether or not they will file a lawsuit. Donnelly sent News 6 this statement:

“Without any prior notice, warning or discussion and without any due process, Chief Shane Alexander was fired on June 25. Even more troubling, the sudden allegations are completely and totally baseless and false – there are no facts and zero evidence of any kind to support them. The city manager has never communicated with Chief Alexander about these claims, and did not even carry out or sign the termination letter. Chief Alexander continues to have the unanimous support of the members of the Ocala Fire Department. He looks forward to returning as soon as possible to his leadership position, and continuing his decades of service to the community and keeping the people of Ocala safe and sound,” the statement read.

Since Alexander’s firing, Clint Welborn with Ocala Fire Rescue has been promoted to chief.

About the Author:

Crystal Moyer is a morning news anchor who joined the News 6 team in 2020.