Resident denies sending email to council that Marco Island manager's firing was 'no secret'

Several Islanders say they still question transparency of firing city manager

— While some Marco Island residents said they were displeased with the lack of public notice before the city manager was fired, others say most everyone knew it was coming.

“It’s no secret to most Islanders that apparently Chairman (Frank) Recker has begun an informal polling of other councilors regarding the question of asking for the resignation of City Manager (Steve) Thompson,” resident Larry Sacher wrote to council members and several residents.

He sent that e-mail the morning of April 19, hours before the council’s decision, according to records obtained by the Naples News Media Group, which includes the Marco Eagle.

“Frank (Recker) indicated in e-mails he sent me that it was going to be a done deal. Clearly it was a done deal,” Sacher said Friday.

Those e-mails were deleted, Sacher said.

On Monday, Sacher, who identified himself as a member of the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association, denied sending the e-mail. He also now denies making any comments that Recker informed him of the decision prior to the public meeting.

Sacher does maintain that he encouraged and supported firing Thompson.

After adding a discussion on Thompson’s performance to the April 19 agenda, council decided in a 4-3 vote to fire him, citing poor communication and lack of transparency.

Thompson should have told council members about correspondence in 2009 from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the city’s and Quality Enterprises’ alleged mishandling of the toxic substance asbestos in 2006, Recker contends.

Councilmen Chuck Kiester, Joe Batte and Larry Magel agreed that after not hearing from the EPA for two years regarding potential violations of the Clean Air Act, Thompson should have known to tell them.

It wasn’t their only gripe, but it was among the most recent.

Marco resident Lee Kurasowicz questioned how they could accuse Thompson of a lack of transparency and not allow their review of Thompson’s performance to be transparent and properly noticed to the public.

Recker maintained Friday that he talked to many residents about the manager’s misgivings in advance and did not poll other council members.

“All I could do was talk to people on the outside, who could give me their impressions. I didn’t need to know what other council members were saying. All the groups were supporting it,” Recker said.

Sacher said Friday he first heard about the plan to fire Thompson from Marco Island Taxpayer Association President Fay Biles the week before council made the decision.

“I took no part at all in this,” Biles said. “I said, ‘That’s up to them, up to City Council.’ ”

She said she knew Thompson was going to be fired when she heard the EPA allegations.

On Monday, Sacher denied saying he heard the plan from Biles and instead said he first heard of the firing from an e-mail blast sent by city watchdog Bill McMullan.

Sacher’s e-mail obtained through public records requests, which Sacher now says he did not write and send to council, isn’t exactly a smoking gun, said Jim Rhea, director of the First Amendment Foundation.

The First Amendment Foundation supports citizens’ access to government and thus receives contributions from the media, including the Naples Daily News Media Group.

“This e-mail is plain hearsay to you and me,” Rhea said.

Council members shouldn’t be talking to each other outside of a public meeting, shouldn’t be using intermediaries to poll each other on issues and shouldn’t be polling themselves, he added.

“It’s about the spirit of the Sunshine Law, of open government. So that people know what decisions their representatives are making and why. So the public can voice their opinions,” Rhea said.

The Marco Island Chamber of Commerce board voted to show its lack of support of the process, although they took no official stance on whether Thompson should have been fired.

Residents who voiced concern about the process, even if they didn’t take a stance on whether Thompson should have eventually been fired, include Virgina Gibson, Dick Plawecki, Dick Schoen, Gwyn Steiner, among several others.

Biles said she wasn’t uncomfortable about a lack of public notice.

“It’s depends on the chairman of the board. That’s his (Recker’s) style and my hat goes off to him,” she said.

Thompson couldn’t have been fired without “behind-the-scenes negotiations,” Sacher said in an interview on Friday.

“It’s impossible not to violate the Sunshine Laws and they do it all the time,” he contended.

The city’s agenda modification rules allow council, by majority vote, to add items “limited to emergencies, those affecting the public safety, or time-sensitive items of a major significance affecting city operations.”

Councilman Bill Trotter opposed the timing of the discussion, saying waiting to properly notice the discussion wouldn’t put anyone at risk. He lost that argument in a 5-2 vote.

The Florida Attorney General’s office has recommended waiting to properly notify the public if at all possible, Rhea said.

The delay in getting a second to Recker’s motion to fire Thompson should disprove any conspiracy theories, Recker said Friday.

Councilman Chuck Kiester eventually seconded it.

“At the risk of being a conspiracy theorist, that Kiester pause and second was predetermined,” Sacher said on Friday and maintained on Monday.

Despite his opinion on the advanced arrangements, Sacher supports the decision and hopes other administrators at City Hall similarly are held accountable.

Sacher said he supported interim City Manager Jim Riviere’s decision on Tuesday to remove Community Development Director Steve Olmsted from his $85,000-a-year position.

Olmsted, who received a $35,000 severance, will not be replaced, Riviere said.

“Olmsted was a good start, whether or not Jim (Riviere) is the one who made that decision,” Sacher said.

Other department changes are in the works, Riviere said.

Council selected Riviere unanimously on April 23, the Friday following Thompson’s firing.

Riviere was formerly chairman of the city Planning Board, appointed by then-Councilman Ted Forcht. His name wasn’t an option presented to the public in advance of his hiring.

There is no public record of consideration of Riviere for the interim position in advance of council’s decision because it wasn’t put in writing, Riviere said.

“I had the idea first and it was right after Thompson was separated from the city. I talked to council members individually,” Riviere said.

Marco Island resident Amadeo Petricca said he didn’t take issue with the process of firing Thompson or hiring Riviere.

“Nothing is bizarre in the city of Marco Island,” Petricca said. “Somebody is always going to think there’s been a violation of the Sunshine Law, but thinking it and proving it is a different thing.”

A different version of this story appeared in the Saturday edition of the Naples Daily News and was updated for print in the Marco Eagle.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 4

ed34145 writes:

Come on, everyone knew that Recker was going to propose firing him at the meeting. The SunTimes even ran an article the week before the meeting. And we all know Recker would never have brought it up if he didn't know he had 4 votes.

marco97 writes:

Ed Recter brought up the CRA at the beginning of the April meeting to table it and he did not get one vote. Do you think he knew he would not get a vote and brought it up anyway?

marcosandflea writes:

We needed a new idiot, we've had enough of Issler, northing more to be said about Walduck, Ray Beaufart must be getting treatment, so this new guy, Sacker will have to do.

sachcpi writes:

in response to Klabautermann:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Your comments verify Steve Thompson's characterization about Marco's "ugly politics". I've tried on 2 occasions to get the papers and Kelly Farrell to print my actual comments, but they don't and apparently won't. I don't have a political agenda, and you'll also note that the articles don't refer to which e-mails they got; I had direct e-mails with Chairman Recker in which he specifically said that nothing could be decided outside of a public forum and I merely expressed my opinion in support of terminating Thompason.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features