Stewart Steps Down
At a special meeting on Wednesday
afternoon, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council agreed to accept a
request from Town Manager Terry Stewart that he be terminated without
cause. Despite the controversy surrounding his departure, after the
motion was made Stewart gave a speech in which he graciously thanked
the council for allowing him to serve, and quietly left council
chambers for the last time as his supporters applauded.
Mayor Alan Mandel opened the meeting
by explaining that Councilman Bob Raymond was out of town and could
not attend. All remaining council members were present.
"As Mayor, in accordance with
Town Charter, I called this meeting in order to share comments made
to me last Friday where the Town Manager approached me and said he
wished to resign," said Mandel. He then asked for a motion to
remove the Town Manager without cause, effective immediately, which
was made by Council-woman Jo List and seconded by ViceMayor Joe
During the discussion that followed,
Kosinski said he doesn't agree with Stewart leaving.
"This is not a good thing for our
Town, but if it is what Terry wishes, I have to respect that,"
he said. "
Town Clerk Michelle Mayher then read a
letter from Raymond, who echoed Kosinski's comments.
"I cannot be at the Wednesday
meeting,” she read. "I do not favor Terry leaving without cause -
if he wishes to go I will respect that, but I will not fire him."
Council then voted 4-0 to terminate
Stewart's contract, after which he spoke to the packed room and Town
"I want all of you to know it's
been a pleasure to work for the Town for almost 4 years now,” he
said. "This Town has an incredible future and is filled with a lot
of decent folks. Unfortunately, I could not make all of them happy. I
don't think it's any secret that it's this issue with the elevated
pools that has created this controversy. There are those who continue
to perpetuate the myth that staff is trying to force this issue down
people's throats, and that is not true. We brought this issue to you
(council) in June and again in August. At no time has the staff
advocated for these pools to be built or continue to be built."
"Now to the matter at hand,” he
continued. "This Town has a lot on its plate and it had a lot on
its plate when I got here. It was in good financial condition then,
and now it's even better. The potable water project is now being done
and the reconstruction of Estero Boulevard will begin soon. I am not
taking credit for this - it is all of you that made this happen,
along with many other projects, some controversial, some not - like
COP on the beach, which actually did not result in a bunch of drunks
brawling on the sand. On Tuesday morning, we sat down and went over
all the major projects, and I think you're in good hands with the
"Prior to my arrival here, the
manager's job had been a revolving door, and I hope you will go out
and find someone that will work hard and stay here for years. I want
to thank you for the opportunity to come here and continue my
Stewart then briefly addressed the
controversy by telling a story about an old friend.
"When I first became an assistant
city manager, I kept reading stories about a manager in Clearwater
named Mike Roberto, and one of the things I saw is that when he was
under fire in his city, he walked away with dignity and grace,” he
said. "That man became my friend, and I wrote to him once saying
that if that ever happened to me, I wanted to be able to do the same.
Thank you for letting me walk away without rancor.”
After asking permission to leave,
Stewart then quietly got up from his desk. As he made his way out of
council chambers, his supporters stood and gave him a standing
Mayor Mandel then named Town Financial
Officer Evelyn Wicks acting Town Manager, telling her that he has
contacted a group of retired city managers who are available to
"Let me assure all of you - Council
will not be running Town Hall,” he said. "We have a meeting on
January 21st and I will have a list of possible Interim Town
During Public Comment, the only person
to speak was Jay Light, who encouraged council to rehire former Town
Manager Jack Green.
"First, thank you,
congratulations to Mr. Stewart for handling this the right way,"
he said. 'When I first heard this was going to happen, I got on the
phone with Jack Green, who left this position for a variety of
reasons. He says he may be interested in returning, so I seriously
urge you to consider it."
Following the meeting, resident Garr
Reynolds told us he believes that Stewart's departure is "just the
"Next we have to get rid of
(Community Development Director) Walt Fluegel,” he said.
Mayor Mandel told us that the Council
will continue to move forward with the projects it has been working
"At our next meeting on the 21st,
council will have the opportunity to select an Interim Town Manager,”
We also spoke to Terry Stewart after
the meeting, where he revealed the reason why he asked to be
"When I was in the Cape, there was a
controversial issue during an election cycle,” he said. "My staff
and I worked to stand behind the council, but the situation got very
rancorous and we all fell very hard. I am so grateful to all of those
people for sticking it out with me, but I felt later that I probably
should have left sooner as everyone ended up going after the staff
and I did not want to see these folks here go through that.”
Stewart reiterated that he and staff
did not advocate for elevated pools to be allowed on the island.
"That is a downright lie, and the
facts will show it,” he said. "That being said, I am very
grateful to the Town Council to allow me to make my exit a cordial
Wednesday's meeting came about after
Stewart offered to tender his resignation following a speech he gave
at a meeting last Friday concerning the elevated pools issue (see the
front page for that story). No members of Town Council addressed
Stewart’s offer to resign at that meeting, though Mayor Mandel did
speak with him afterwards and upon confirming Stewart’s statement
regarding resignation on Monday, scheduled the Wednesday afternoon
special Council meeting.
"Council is the only group that can
make this decision, therefore a special meeting has been called for
us to consider it,” Mandel told us on Monday.
According to Stewart's employment
contract, which he and Town Council signed on January 3rd, 2011.
'Termination Without Cause' must come with a majority vote of the
council and entitles him to severance pay equal to six months of his
base salary, any payment for accrued vacation and sick leave payable
within 15 calendar days after termination unless otherwise agreed to
by both parties. No other benefits - including vehicle allowance,
deferred compensation contributions or group health insurance will be
paid following the effective date of the termination.
Stewart first came to Fort Myers Beach
as an Interim Town Manager in early 2010, after serving as the Town
Manager of Cape Coral for eight years. Six months later he was
unanimously offered a permanent job after being given a 4.1 out of 5
rating for his performance by the council who warmly welcomed him,
saying he brings 'much needed stability' to Town Hall. During his
four-year tenure, Stewart helped oversee long-awaited projects such
as North Estero, renourishment of the north end of the island, the
renovation of the Newton Property and the Mound House, the beginning
of the fix to the Town's aging water utility and the reconstruction
of Estero Boulevard, to name a few.
Prior to Stewart, the Town went
through seven town managers in five years, after the resignation of
Marsha Segal-George, who was Town Manager from the time of
incorporation until 2005.
In an article written by the Sand
Paper in October of 2009 about whether or not then-Town Manager Jack
Green planned to remain in office, Finance Coordinator for the Town -
Amanda Anderson - reported that the total amount of money spent by
the Town either searching for or rejecting town managers was up to
$271,056.56 at that time.
Keri Hendry Weeg