NORTH PORT — Resident and watchdog groups will advance the idea of having North Port City Manager Pete Lear removed from his job.
These groups of people have decided there was enough public outrage on how Lear’s reinstatement was handled last week, according to one woman leading a recall-type effort. Conni Brunni said group members will collect petition signatures and present those to city commissioners.
Such resident-led initiatives are akin to a recall permitted under city rules, she argued. Commissioners would decide whether to abide, however, which isn’t likely, as three of the five commissioners voted in Lear’s favor Sept. 8.
Brunni said the signatures of 5,000 registered voters would meet her group’s petition goal.
These residents would go public Thursday. North Port’s final budget hearing begins at 5:01 p.m., and they plan a city hall vigil, Brunni said. It coincides with Lear’s return before the public. He served a five-day unpaid suspension before returning to work Wednesday.
“People are very angry and very frustrated,” said Brunni, a founder of ABCD, or Accountability=Better Community Direction, which deems itself a watchdog group.
Brunni had also filed complaints with the Florida Commission on Ethics, alleging misdeeds relating to Lear’s situation by commissioners Vanessa Carusone, Pete Emrich and Chris Hanks, the trio voting in Lear’s favor.
But Brunni and others face an uphill fight, said Carusone, a lead voice in returning Lear to his $162,000 job. Policy and law, she argued, drove the majority decisions, not sentiment or raw feelings. Mayor Debbie McDowell and Vice Mayor Jill Luke voted in the minority on two motions to release Lear from his job.
Agreeing that Lear had made poor personal choices, he didn’t violate any of four ethics or legal conditions that would be grounds for dismissal, Carusone argued.
“Firing someone without actual cause, you’re signing yourself up for a lawsuit,” she said.
Lear had been on paid leave since July while a Fort Myers attorney began investigating an office romance at the behest of city commissioners. There were other allegations that Lear skirted procedures to elevate his alleged city hall paramour.
Vicki Sproat with Sproat Workplace Investigations unraveled Lear’s trail since his July 14 suspension.
Sproat’s report was released Sept. 4. Commissioners on the following Tuesday were to interpret her investigation and to decide whether its contents would cause them to fire Lear.
That didn’t happen. Thursday’s budget hearing is the last step in approving next year’s spending.