Cape Coral City Manager Gary King was terminated without cause Friday night, ending an 18-month run as the city’s top executive.
According to the terms of his contract, King receives six months severance pay, including payouts of benefits and accrued leave. King walks away with nearly $83,000.
King offered no comment on his firing, other than to thank his wife, supporters and city employees for their work and help.
Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pohlman was named interim city manager in the wake of the 6-2 council decision to terminate King’s contract early.
Mayor John Sullivan and Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz dissented.
It was the finale of a controversial and often contentious meeting that began with city council voting to deny public comment for what a council majority described as an administrative matter.
The denial sent council chambers into an uproar, with King’s supporters hurling insults at the dais amid the mayor’s threat to clear the room.
Sullivan then sharply attacked several residents, including Darryl Teblum and Nancy Patti, both of whom have been critical of King and The Road Ahead, a faction which held a council majority until the election in November.
Sullivan read into the public record pieces of what he said was Teblum’s background and then took shots at Patti, bringing back past statements he said she made during public comment.
Sullivan speculated that Patti and Teblum were among those who were part of a setup to dethrone the city manager, after an incident between King and a resident occurred after a council meeting almost two weeks ago. Patti was witness to the verbal exchange.
The mayor said the public should not trust anything that Teblum brings forward because he represents a minority in the city.
Teblum had read a list of alleged violations against King last Monday and called for the manager’s removal.
“This is not a very credible individual,” Sullivan said of Teblum. “I would not take anything on face value this man presents.”
Nancy Patti said she was not surprised by the mayor’s comments and would likely consult with her attorney on whether the mayor violated her rights by attacking her from the dais in a public forum.
After a late arrival, Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz read a portion of the Declaration of Independence, and criticized other council members, accusing them of violating the Sunshine Law while maintaining Friday’s meeting was illegal because it was not advertised.
He said that council was a disgrace to the city.
“All justice has been thrown out the window in Cape Coral,” Chulakes-Leetz said.
City Clerk Rebecca van Deutekom said the special meeting was properly noticed although not advertised in the local newspapers, while City Attorney Dolores Menendez said as long as the meeting was noticed it did not have to be advertised. Menendez also said the number of people in attendance would indicate that the notice was sufficient and the meeting was legal.
Councilmember Derrick Donnell called the meeting this week following Monday’s scheduled session that saw public comment dissolve into a shouting match between King’s supporters and detractors.
Council decided to start an investigative process concerning allegations raised and to discuss King’s continued tenure with the city, but Donnell said he decided it was important to not drag out that process because there would be no benefit to anyone or the city.
“It would do nothing positive for us to draw this out,” Donnell said.
King was hired without the benefit of public comment, so it was not unfair that public comment wasn’t allowed during his termination without cause, according to Councilman Kevin McGrail.
McGrail also said he didn’t want a repeat of Monday’s night’s shouting match.
“This is an administrative decision, much like the selection process,” McGrail said.
Steve Pohlman takes the seat with expectations of moving the city forward, but has no plans to seek the seat permanently, he said.
Pohlman added that he hopes to help bring civility back to city council meetings. And he did not take offense when King’s supporters decried his selection as interim city manager.
“We need to start the healing process,” Pohlman added.
Pohlman makes $121,742 annually. His new position brings with it a 5 percent pay increase and $400 a month in lieu of vehicle allowance.
King was making $132,000 annually, plus benefits.
City council is expected to begin the formal process of searching for a new, permanent city manager before their winter hiatus.