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Records request adds fuel to dueling websites controversy

By Staff | Aug 6, 2011

City Manager Gary King’s request for a charter school teacher’s personnel records caused many to take notice this week, with the employee himself writing about the matter on his blog.

Oasis Middle School teacher Dave Montrose’s ongoing series entitled “The Case for Dethroning the King,” which appears on his blog “Spotlight on Cape Coral,” has been critical of the city manager, taking aim at his incentive package and his budget proposal, among other topics.

King said Friday that by requesting those documents he was not launching an official investigation into Montrose but instead was trying to understand what he calls “unprovoked attacks” written by Montrose on the blog.

King requested copies of Montrose’s contract, along with the charter school policies that deal specifically with morals, and other professional standards, on July 29.

“His commentary about me was very crude and unprofessional and inaccurate,” King said. “It was also very slanderous on some occasions.”

King is also calling into question Montrose’s methods as a teacher and thinks Montrose cannot separate his role as a blogger from that of a teacher while in his classroom.

King said he wasn’t trying to give Montrose any trouble now but was just trying to assess the code of conduct which governs Montrose as a school teacher in the charter system.

“He needs to change his philosophy,” King said. “I’d like him to act like a mature adult and carry himself that way when he’s teaching.”

Montrose came under fire last week when Community Redevelopment Agency board member Jim Martin posted a photo of Montrose’s infant daughter on his blog site, and posed similar questions about Montrose’s role as a teacher at the city-operated charter school.

The “Grass Roots Daily News” site, in its former incarnation was a vehicle for council candidates including Martin and Mayor John Sullivan during the last municipal election cycle. This newly relaunched version is now aimed at supporting City Manager Gary King, according to the site, as well as to reach out to “core voters.”

The blog post from last week, entitled “Does Charter School Teacher Give Beer To His Child?”, also asked whether Montrose and his wife Jessica should be investigated by the Department of Children and Families.

The post has since been removed but not before it sparked a firestorm of discussion about what is fair game when it comes to political gamesmanship. Montrose and Martin – a former contract employee of the city hired by King and a political ally of the city manager and council majority – were at the center of the debate, with most of those commenting in at least two online forums harshly criticizing the “Grass Roots” post that featured the Facebook photo of Montrose’s baby.

Since then, conversation has turned to First Amendment rights and what commentary is protected under that guise, but again this week Montrose and members of the city administration have found themselves at odds.

Gary King said he was a “big boy” when it came to Montrose’s criticisms but fears his “immature” behavior will bleed into his classroom.

“Teachers need to be held to a certain level of accountability,” King said.

Dave Montrose said Friday he has no plans to stop writing about King or what he feels are bad directions in which King has steered the city.

Montrose calls his posts thus far about King reactions to decisions made by the city manager. And he welcomed King to correct any inaccuracies posted on “Spotlight on Cape Coral.”

Montrose said King has no authority over the Charter School System and it appears that the city manager is using city resources for a personal vendetta that he says includes Councilmember Bill Deile, who also has been the subject of criticism on “Spotlight on Cape Coral.”

Deile said Montrose’s efforts with “Spotlight” are aimed strictly at getting King fired and that Montrose should expect the same treatment “in kind.”

“Spotlight on Cape Coral” is presenting inaccurate information, Deile said, and retaliation by those who are targets of that criticism is fair game.

“If he wants to enter into the political arena so be it. He (Montrose) runs a news site that’s a vehicle for a personal agenda,” Deile said.

Though not too familiar with “Spotlight on Cape Coral,” Deile said Montrose was likely causing controversy to draw readership to his blog, which he thinks generates revenue through associated links on the site.

“He feels it’s to his benefit if he draws controversy,” Deile said. “It suits his purpose for his political goals, makes his name in public and draws readership.”

Montrose said he does not make any money from the site. But he added that an anonymous tip led a city inspector to his home to find out if they were, in fact, operating a business.

Montrose previously consulted with an attorney after the photo of his infant daughter popped up on Martin’s website, but he and his wife declined to pursue a lawsuit, possibly for defamation

If his job as a charter school teacher is threatened, he said, they may change their minds.

“If any further attempt is made on my job, then we will act on it,” Montrose said.

Councilmember Marty McClain is worried about just that- that the city manager is opening the city up to litigation by involving himself in the political arena instead of managing the city.

McClain said King is acting on a behalf of an apparent vendetta between Montrose and Bill Deile and that Montrose has not violated any policies.

The city manager needs to focus on moving the city forward, McClain said, and his request and perusal of Montrose’s contract has no purpose.

“The city manager has been attacked just like each and every one of us on the dais has. We’ve all been subjected to scrutiny,” McClain said. “What is the end game? Who does this put to work? What companies does this bring to the city? What tax dollars are being saved?”

Councilmember Kevin McGrail called King’s actions both a “power play” and “inappropriate,” and that the further the city manager delves into politics the worse it makes the city look.

“The further he gets away from politics the better it is for his longevity with the city,” McGrail said.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said he and Dave Montrose had a bit of a rough start to their relationship, especially during the time of Swim Center when Montrose spoke in favor of the project during public comment.

Chulakes-Leetz said he was able to sit down with Montrose and quash any bad blood that might have existed between them and King and Montrose need to do the same.

“The simple solution would be to pick up the phone and act like adults,” Chulakes-Leetz said.