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Terry Stewart

01/14/2014 at 4:26pm

Town Manager Terry StewartTown Manager Resigning?

Updated Wednesday 3:00pm

The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach terminated Terry Stewart’s employment as Town Manager without cause during a Special Meeting held Wednesday January 15, 2014.

Four council members voted unanimously to terminate his employment with severance pay as provided in his contract. Bob Raymond was out of town and unable to attend the meeting, though he did send an email to the Town Clerk stating that he was not in favor of terminating Stewart’s contract without cause.

"I would not fire him with or without cause,” Raymond wrote.

In stark contrast to the most recent two council meetings, there was no public comment offered at the beginning of the meeting, though council chambers were full.

Following the vote, Stewart spoke to Council, thanking them for the opportunity to serve as manager of Fort Myers Beach for almost four years.

"This is a great little community. A super town. It has incredible potential. There are a whole lot of decent people who live here…though, as with any community, there are always people who choose to be unhappy.”

Mayor Alan Mandel appointed Evelyn Wicks, Finance Director, as Acting Town Manager and indicated that Town Council would begin the process of selecting an interim manager at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 6:30pm. That meeting is delayed one day due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Public comment at the end of the meeting brought only one resident, Jay Light, to the microphone. He urged council to consider hiring Jack Green, a previous Town Manager as either an interim or permanent manager.

Read the full report in Friday’s Island Sand Paper.

____________End of Update_____________

The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach will hold a special meeting Wednesday, January 15th at 1pm to consider a possible resignation by Town Manager Terry Stewart.

Mayor Alan Mandel told the Sand Paper that he and his fellow council members were contacted individually by Stewart and he offered to resign from the position he's held since 2010.

"Council is the only group that can make this decision, therefore a special meeting has been called for us to consider it,” Mandel said, declining to speculate on the reasons why Stewart is asking to leave.

We spoke to Stewart Tuesday morning, and he told us that he plans to ask council to terminate his contract 'at will' or without cause, meaning he will receive six months in severance and be entitled to all the sick and vacation days he has accrued.

"I really don't want to comment at this time as to why I've made this decision, just simply to say that I love Fort Myers Beach and I've thoroughly enjoyed my time here and most of the people I've met,” he said. "I am not making this request because I don't like the beach.”

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.

At a special meeting held last Friday to address the issue of ambiguities in the Land Development Code (LDC) regarding elevated pools and accessory structures, Stewart gave a summary where he made clear how he and Town staff were handling the issue and reminded council they initially brought it to their attention in June of last year because they thought there may be a problem with language in the LDC. That issue has erupted into controversy involving accusations being made against members of Town staff and the hiring of an outside attorney to look into those allegations and to make a formal interpretation of the language in the LDC. At the end of the following comments, Stewart offered to tender his resignation.

"When permits for these structures were applied for, staff examined the code and made a decision to approve based on the LDC,” he said. "Staff accepts responsibility for that. There was a point in time where it became clear that the public was not happy with what they were seeing. We provided you with a memo on June 14thto bring this to your attention. I don't think any of you had heard from the public before that. I would also like to point out to you that the information was brought to you on August 5th, along with a recommendation from staff to resolve the ambiguity and how to resolve it. You felt the same way, and sent it to the LPA along with staff's recommendations. If the LPA had been allowed to finish their work, they would have been done with it by now. Staff understood in June that this cannot continue, we know very well how this community feels. I am not now, nor have I ever, advocated that we change the code to allow this to continue, but the reality is - legally - when there are ambiguities in the code they must be interpreted in favor of the property owner regardless of the legislator's intent. The state of Florida has the strictest laws in the country protecting individual property rights.

"The lesson that we've learned is that if we think there's any ambiguity in the code, it should come to you immediately," he concluded. "Finally, let me make it clear that I had nothing to do with retaining the outside attorney and I had nothing to do with his interpretation of the code. I did ask the attorney to look into the allegations regarding Mr. Fluegel, what I did not do is ask him to look into the code."

No members of Town Council addressed Stewart’s offer to resign at the 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.

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. 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