The Fort Myers Beach Town Council immediately removed Town Manager Terry Stewart from office without cause Wednesday.
Council unanimously approved a motion, which stemmed from a recommendation by Beach Mayor Alan Mandel, to terminate Stewart under Section 6.02 of the Town Charter during a special meeting at Town Hall Wednesday afternoon.
It was a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Bob Raymond having an excused absence.
Town Director of Finance Evelyn Wicks accepted the position of acting manager.
According to the Stewart's employee agreement, the financial terms involve the Town agreeing to pay Stewart a lump sum severance payment equal to six months of his base salary of roughly $120,000 within 15 days of termination and any payment for accrued vacation and sick leave. He was hired in February 2010.
"It has been a distinct pleasure for me to be able to work with the Town of Fort Myers Beach for almost four years now," Stewart said. "This is a great, little community, a super town, that has incredible potential and has a whole lot of really decent, kind people that live here. As with any community, there are always folks that choose to be unhappy. Unfortunately, we didn't find a way to make them happy."
Stewart was under fire for controversial building permits that were issued by one of his staff members to a developer for elevated pools and accessory structures. Calls were made for him to fire Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel but, although a mistake was admitted, he defended his employee and refused to take any action.
Last Friday, after a heated special meeting on the issue, Mandel said he was approached by Stewart who told him that he wished to resign "in consideration."
Mandel decided to seek counsel with Town Attorney Jim Humphrey, before calling a special meeting on the matter.
"Because of the importance in the matter, I thought it best to call a special meeting where only this one subject could be discussed and possibly have action taken," he said.
With a number of major projects underway, Council will move swiftly to find an interim town manager.
Mandel stated he will provide names of people who are available for that role for Council to consider at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m.
"At that meeting, we will review the process we will use to hire a new town manager," he said.
Mandel said he has already contacted the Florida League of Cities, a united voice for Florida's municipal governments, and was informed of the accessibility of "range riders" -retired city managers who volunteer their time to assist any staff that has a question.
"We need to replace Mr. Stewart expeditiously," said Mandel. "There is one very important thing that we all have to remember. Based on the charter, staff does not make policy and the council cannot manage staff."