Residents of Isles of Capri want Fire Chief Emilio Rodriguez back. An angry group of more than 80 citizens confronted Dan Summers, director of Collier County’s Bureau of Emergency Services, Tuesday, to call for the chief’s reinstatement. During the Isles of Capri Advisory Board meeting, board members voiced displeasure and disappointment for being kept in the dark about the chief’s firing.
Following his termination on Nov. 4, Rodriguez requested an appeal asking for reinstatement and the chance to clear his name. The request was denied, said Summers, citing that as a director, Rodriguez was not covered under Florida’s Firefighters Bill of Rights.
On Tuesday, the advisory board brandished termination documents and demanded to know how a chief with 20 years of service could be fired without remedial action or without the board or community being informed.
Summers said he could not share information other than the termination packet with the public. But he was clear the firing was warranted.
“The situation was serious,” Summers said. “We have a responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of our operations and our employees.”
Board member Kirk Colvin asked Summers for a timeline of offenses and disciplinary actions. Other than a 2010 probation, the board was not aware of any actions taken by the county regarding Rodriguez, he said.
That probation was ended by Summers who told the board performance issues had been resolved to his satisfaction. He said that any disciplinary letters regarding under-performance would be removed from Rodriguez’s file.
“Chief Rod’s efficiency reports were exemplary,” said Joseph Langkawel, chairman of the advisory board.
Colvin scolded Summers for lack of documentation including patterns of events, evidence of wrongdoing and remediation that would allow Rodriguez to improve performance. Colvin said Summer’s justification packet for firing Rodriguez was totally lacking in evidence.
Summers warned that a public venue was not appropriate for discussing personnel records.
After the advisory board meeting, those in attendance were allowed to ask Summers questions regarding Rodriguez. John Rogers discounted the entire packet pointing out that the first 17 pages were dated after the termination and appeared to be placed there to support the county’s action.
According to packet documents, inquires into alleged misconduct began on Oct. 31 when Rodriguez was questioned about a bank account held by an outside group. Rodriguez denied any knowledge of 2010-2011 bank statements from Fifth Third Bank bring sent to the Isles of Capri fire station.
The account was used by a volunteer organization raising funds to support the fire department. Rodriguez said the organization had separated its affiliation with the fire station and disbanded, so he did not know why the statements were addressed to the fire station.
Prior to the inquiry, Summers met with three employees including Rodriguez’s Administrative Assistant Barbara Shea. She informed Summers that she had intercepted the daily mail, which Rodriguez did not allow, and found the Fifth Third Bank statement. She gave the statement to Summers.
Two other employees, Lt. Jason Michael and firefighter Chris Toemi, were present at the meeting. They shared documents indicating that Rodriguez edited various class certification attendance sheets. Training rosters did not accurately list those who reportedly were in attendance, Summers wrote.
After Rodriguez’s termination, memos to his file indicated additional infractions.
On Nov. 14, Summers received a report from Chief Alan McLaughlin, interim chief at the Isles of Capri Fire Station. McLaughlin summarized a conversation on Nov. 8 with Lt. Keith Perry who informed him, that approximately six months prior, he and others witnessed Rodriguez verbally berate and chastise Battalion Capt. Tom Purcell; and then, slap him.
On Nov. 9, Purcell told McLaughlin the incident was accurate.
In a Nov. 15 memo, Summers questioned use of funds to repair the department’s rescue boat. Summers wrote that Tony’s Dockside Marine was paid for service even though members of the fire department thought charges were too high and repairs too frequent. The company had family and personal ties to Rodriguez, staff explained.
After an initial quote of $1,363 for repairs by Tony’s Dockside Marine, the actual work was completed by Intercoastal Marine Service at a cost of $311.75.
In a Nov. 17 memo, McLaughlin said discussions with Shea led him to believe payroll practices were outside county norms. According to McLaughlin, Shea “indicated that despite guidance from HR on how to record time, the Chief had told her to ignore the directives and follow his direction in paying the staff.”
On Nov. 18, Summers reported improper use of Rodriguez’s portable and mobile radios that were programmed to receive Marco Island police channels. The memo cited that doing so was not standard practice and posed an unnecessary risk for the county, Isles of Capri and Marco Police Department.
The board unanimously voted to send a letter to Collier County Commissioners requesting an investigation into the firing.