Marco Island police, fire chiefs to be suspended after Eventbrite vaccine system probe

Marco Island Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano and Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Christopher Byrne.

Marco Island Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano and Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Christopher Byrne will be suspended for 30 days each in connection with a city investigation into use of the Eventbrite COVID-19 vaccine registration system, the city announced Wednesday.

An investigation led by City Manager Mike McNees concluded that Frazzano's husband, William Frazzano, 65, made an online appointment on the Eventbrite system before the city published the Eventbrite link on the city's website and social media accounts on Jan. 20.

McNees also concluded that Byrne failed to report the breach and allowed William Frazzano to take the vaccine during the city's first vaccination clinic on Jan. 22 despite Collier County EMS alerting him of the breach approximately 10 minutes before the Eventbrite link was published.

Byrne alerted McNees on Jan. 28 about what happened, eight days after the incident, McNees said at a news conference later Wednesday.

McNees wrote in a news release that Byrne spoke with Frazzano and that she said she had provided the Eventbrite link to her husband believing that the link would not work until 2 p.m.

McNees wrote it is fundamental that public employees conduct themselves in a manner that merits the trust and respect from the community. He wrote it is also fundamental that they do not leverage their public positions for personal gain or benefit.

"The use of her position as chief of police to secure a coveted COVID-19 vaccination for her husband represents a clear failure on the part of Chief Frazzano to meet those standards," McNees wrote.

"Even if early access to the registration system was provided inadvertently, as she contends, the fact is that once it became clear that access had been prematurely gained the vaccination was nevertheless still received by Mr. Frazzano," McNees wrote.

McNees offered both chiefs a predetermination meeting within 24 hours before his decision is final. After that, the period of suspension will begin at a time to be determined but no later than March 1.

"During that period (they) will not participate in the operation of the department in any way, and will receive no compensation or accrue any benefits as would normally accrue to (them) as an employee of the department or the city of Marco Island," McNees wrote.

Byrne said Wednesday he had "no comment at this time."

On Thursday, MIPD Capt. Dave Baer sent an email at 1:01 p.m., attaching a written statement signed with Frazzano's initials.

"I am sorry this occurred. A link was provided to my husband with the belief that it would go live at the same time for everyone. That was not the case. We thought the vaccine would have been wasted if he did not go. We regret this occurred and acknowledge that it would have been better to have not received the vaccine," Frazzano wrote.

Frazzano wrote she will focus on "rebuilding the confidence of the city and its residents."

At 3:43 p.m., Baer sent via email a new and longer version of Frazzano's written statement.

"It was never my intention to circumvent the registration process or deprive anyone of the vaccine. I was brought here to set a higher standard and I failed to meet that standard in this instance," Frazzano wrote.

Marco Island City Manager Mike McNees speaks to reporters during a press conference in the lobby of City Hall's community room on Feb. 3, 2021.

In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, McNees said the city attorney evaluated the case and has given him no indication the case should be referred to county, state or federal authorities. 

"What we got is a couple of bad judgment calls," McNees said. "That's not acceptable, but it isn't criminal."

McNees said Frazzano acquired the link from MIPD's Public Education Specialist Tristan Ashby.

Among Ashby's duties are to create content and educate the public through all city social media accounts, according to a police report to City Council.

McNees said in a phone call Wednesday night Ashby did not do anything wrong.

"His boss asked him for the information and he gave it to her," McNees said.

Ashby wrote in an email Thursday that he had no comment.

City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni wrote in a text message Wednesday he is thankful for McNees' actions.

"The city manager faced this sensitive situation head-on and conducted a review of the allegations in an expedited manner and in a transparent fashion, keeping both the City Council and public aware of the process and conclusion as appropriate," Grifoni wrote.

Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Christopher Byrne speaks during a ceremony in Fire Station 50 to honor Fire Marshal Ray Munyon as he retires after 30 years of service on the island on Dec. 17, 2020.

Frazzano and Byrne were placed on administrative leave Monday pending the result of the investigation into allegations involving "access and use" of the Eventbrite vaccine registration system, the city announced Monday.

For the second vaccine clinic, the city told Florida residents last week to visit its website at 2 p.m., Jan. 27, and to click on a banner on the top of the page that would redirect them to the Eventbrite website.

The city's website crashed at 2 p.m. as possibly thousands of web visitors attempted to make one of 200 available appointments to get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine two days later at Mackle Park, the city announced later that day.

At 2 p.m., the city also shared the Eventbrite link on its social media accounts. At approximately 2:15 p.m., the city announced on social media all 200 appointment slots were full.

The website was down for about 30 minutes, the Marco Eagle observed.

"Some people were still able to access the Eventbrite page and make a reservation through the city’s website or through the link posted on our city social media sites," the city said in a news release sent later that day.

In case you missed it:Marco police, fire chiefs placed on leave as city investigates access to Eventbrite vaccine system

And:Hundreds of Floridians get COVID-19 vaccine on Marco Island after city website crashes

On Jan. 22, the city and Collier EMS administered for the first time fewer than 300 doses at Veterans' Community Park.

The appointment slots, which also were scheduled through the event management and ticketing website Eventbrite, were filled within three minutes of being made available online on Jan. 20, according to the city.

McNees said during a City Council meeting Monday night the city is working on a new vaccine registration system that will give priority to Marco's oldest residents.

The city's two previous vaccine clinics have allowed people from outside of Marco to register with the same level of priority as Marco residents as long as they were Florida residents.

"It makes it more manageable (that) we don't have people all over Southwest Florida trying to overwhelm the island to get 200 or 300 vaccinations," McNees said.

McNees said on Monday the city won't help distribute vaccinations this week on the island.

"We didn't want to try to spin something up quickly this week with a whole new set of priorities and a whole new system. One misstep was enough," McNees said.

Check back for more on this developing story, and click to see the full releases on Byrne and Frazzano's suspensions.

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