Marco city worker who got $100,000 when dismissed loses Lee job on his first day

In this June 2010 file photo, minutes after Marco City Council discusses finding an outside firm to manage the city-owned utility, its current director, Rony Joel, accepts a 1st place award among utilities in the state for allowing the least amount of pollutants from the wastewater plant into the waterways.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff

In this June 2010 file photo, minutes after Marco City Council discusses finding an outside firm to manage the city-owned utility, its current director, Rony Joel, accepts a 1st place award among utilities in the state for allowing the least amount of pollutants from the wastewater plant into the waterways.

— Rony Joel was a frequent target of public criticism during the six years he worked for the city of Marco Island. He left with what many described as a golden parachute.

Joel was hired this summer for a job with Lee County government, but he didn’t even get to sit at his desk for a day before his stint ended. He had no contract and didn’t receive a cent for showing up to take on his new job as director of Lee County’s Department of Transportation (DOT).

“Rony Joel will not be placed in the role of director of DOT as previously announced,” wrote Doug Meurer, assistant director of public works, in a memo dated June 30 to all Lee DOT staff.

That was the day before Joel showed up to work and was sent home.

There isn’t much in the way of explanation from Lee County officials on why they made the abrupt about-face.

Meurer chose Dave Loveland, the county’s planning manager, as interim DOT director, and Randy Cerchie, a county construction manager, as interim deputy director.

“I am making these changes to address two DOT issues that are apparent,” Meurer said. “It is my goal to address the concerns that have been made public at the organizational level so improvements can be made and all staff has access to providing input into the issues.”

When asked to elaborate on which concerns, made public by whom and which issues specifically, county staff remained vague.

“This is referring to DOT issues brought forward by the media and employees,” said Pete Winton, assistant county manager.

There are plenty of issues already surrounding Lee County’s transportation department — including its job-placement practices and management, which are being reviewed in an ongoing audit by the Lee County Clerk of Courts.

There are plenty of issues already surrounding the county’s transportation department — including its job-placement practices and management, which are being reviewed in an ongoing audit by the Lee County Clerk of Courts.

The audit is to determine if allegations of management and employee misconduct occurred. These allegations include employee harassment, intimidation and retaliation; DOT management and employee noncompliance with county policies and procedures; management’s improper reporting of time worked and employee misuse of county resources, wrote Lee County Manager Karen Hawes in a July 6 memo to commissioners.

It includes reviewing performance for compliance with county policy, procedures and federal and state regulations regarding hiring practices, Hawes said.

As for Joel, Lee County officials declined to confirm or deny whether his controversial past suddenly was deemed too much for the department already under scrutiny in the audit.

There was no employment contract between Joel and Lee County government, Human Resources Director Christine Brady said.

Contacted by the Daily News at his Marco Island home this week, Joel declined to comment about his hiring experience and less than one day on the job in Lee. He also declined comment on the county’s explanation.

“There is nothing positive that can come of me commenting about it now,” Joel said.

When asked if he planned to take any action against county government, he said “potentially” and again declined further comment.

While public works and utility director in Marco Island, Joel was in charge of the island’s divisive central sewer project, was embroiled in issues raised about the fairness of a contract award, was suspended for a short time without pay due to a lack of communication and was a figure at the center of a federal environmental investigation that spanned about five years.

Unlike the termination from Marco Island, this firing didn’t come with a golden parachute, as some described Rony Joel’s nearly $100,000 severance check, combined with accrued vacation in Marco.

Unlike the termination from Marco Island, this firing didn’t come with a golden parachute, as some described Joel’s nearly $100,000 severance check, combined with accrued vacation in Marco.

Joel became the center of controversy on Marco Island as the man leading Marco Island through its polarizing central sewer system expansion project.

Further, he was in charge of a project that nearly led to millions of dollars in fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after the federal agency announced in April 2010 that the city and its contractor, Quality Enterprises, potentially violated the Clean Air Act due to the improper handling of asbestos pipe during the reconstruction of Collier Boulevard in 2005-06. The city and Quality Enterprises settled without facing formal enforcement action from the EPA; the construction firm paid the EPA about $82,000 in June 2010.

Joel, at that time, was director of public works and the water-sewer departments. Shortly after, however, on June 28, 2010, he was demoted when Marco Island City Manager Jim Riviere removed Joel as director of public works, naming him general manager of the water/sewer department.

“It seemed Rony (Joel) was always accused of doing something wrong or messing something up,” City Council member Frank Recker has said.

Joel’s salary was reduced by $12,000, from $119,065 to $107,065, when the departments were split. Several years earlier when he became head of both departments, he had received a $12,000 increase.

Riviere then announced Joel’s termination in November 2010, the day before Thanksgiving. It was to be effective April 1.

Instead, Joel left on Jan. 7.

He was paid seven months’ severance the week following his departure. Most city employees with severance packages are offered three months’ severance, city officials have said.

Then-Marco Island City Council Chairman Frank Recker said at the time that despite the poor reputation Joel acquired in his six years with the city, Joel managed to renegotiate one of the more attractive severance packages in city history.

“It seemed Rony (Joel) was always accused of doing something wrong or messing something up,” Recker had said.

Yet Joel’s severance more than doubled by an agreement signed with then-interim City Manager Tony Shoemaker on Jan. 2, 2008, which was Shoemaker’s first day on the job.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 6

NobodysFool57 writes:

Boo-hoo. He's probably got briefcases full of cash from Quality Enterprises and Mitchell & Stark that he hasn't even opened yet. Thank you Dr. Mario Sanchez, for your part in makig things right in the world.

dc5799 writes:

My feeling's exactly that sleaze. Thank you thank you Dr Sanchez again.

liberator100 writes:

Sanchez and Biles are the real sleaze. I hope they are sued for what they did.

RayPray writes:

This is a sad article.

Kelly put in some work to write it.

But after reading it, with all the listed but un-investigated accusations, you really have no idea whether Rony did a great job, did a miserable job, or just muddled through for a few years with a controversial project, while offending a variety of people....

NobodysFool57 writes:

Rony Joel didn't just muddle through a few years of a controversial project. He was a player in the airborne asbestos release during the Collier Blvd. rebuild, the attempted takeover of LCEC's Marco Island assets, and the failed Town Center CRA project. If you think our bonded debt is bad now, he would have driven us into insolvency and beyond. Good riddance.

RayPray writes:

in response to NobodysFool57:

Rony Joel didn't just muddle through a few years of a controversial project. He was a player in the airborne asbestos release during the Collier Blvd. rebuild, the attempted takeover of LCEC's Marco Island assets, and the failed Town Center CRA project. If you think our bonded debt is bad now, he would have driven us into insolvency and beyond. Good riddance.

This may be true.

But again it is unverified accusations.

My point is that if there were a similar story in a serious paper, like the Washington Post, the reporter would not just chronicle accusations, but do serious investigation by researching similar projects from other locales and interviewing independent engineers, not just people with opinions.

Most of the stories in this paper are either just provincial cheer-leading or stories like this with accusations without detailed substantiation.

I knew Rony casually for a couple years. He seemed like a nice guy. But maybe professionally, he was a real villain.

My point is that from reading this long story, however, who can tell?

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