Citizens on Marco Island are not taking the negative editorial comments and calls for the “sacking” of the Marco Police Department in a Naples publication very well. They are also reluctant to believe that Police Chief Al Schettino has decided to look at retirement, rather than staying on and continuing to lead the agency he has worked at for almost 10 years. They are asking him and Interim City Manager David Harden to take a second look at the discussion they held late in February which prompted Schettino’s letter to Harden.
When questioned by the Coastal Breeze News earlier this week, Schettino referred any questions to Harden’s office, but indicated he enjoyed working and living in the community. “Leading the agency and dealing with rebuilding the morale and professionalism within the department was something I believed in,” said Schettino. He did feel the discussion were privileged between himself and Harden, and did not feel comfortable speaking to the content of those discussions.
Petitions have begun to circulate around the island supporting the chief since that editorial appeared in a Naples publication. It called for the “sacking” of the entire department. Word would quickly circulated that Schettino was also being “forced” to step down.
Close to 3,000 signatures have been collected so far in support of Schettino and the numbers are climbing each day.
This week signs have begun to pop up around the island. Those signs simply read, “Keep the Chief.”
At the last council meeting earlier this week several residents came forward during the “citizen comment” section of the meeting to voice their support for Schettino and questioned the rationale for his apparent dismissal.
Chuck Callahan came forward to question how the newly appointed interim manager could have had the time to appropriately evaluate Schettino, or whether his recent actions represented part of an agenda put in place for him to carry out by others.
Bernice Grechen came forward to ask council to “Back the Blue,” as she pointed to over a dozen officers that showed up for the meeting following their work day, prior to going home. Grechen called on the council to support their chief and the officers of the department.
At the end of the public comment section Chairman Erik Brechnitz recognized Councilor Larry Honig who would take that opportunity to respond to the comments by citizens supporting Chief Schettino and the men and women of the Marco Police Department. “The citizens at home cannot see that 13 officers are standing in the back of the room. They are here possibly to support their chief or to intimidate city councilors,” said Honig. That comment would result in a negative response from those in attendance. He requested the permission of the chair to ask the city manager to comment on the allegations that have been made by citizens.
When Chairman Brechnitz hesitated to give Honig permission, in an effort to maintain decorum and move the meeting ahead, Honig proceeded on his own to ask the question, “Did any city councilor ask you to take any action regarding the police chief? Harden simply responded, “No.”
David Harden began his interim position on January 8, the day after the city council meeting on January 7, 2019 approved his hiring. The city has struggled for over two years in their attempts to fill the vacant city manager’s position, until appointing Harden three months ago in the interim position.
Some such as Teddy Callahan have been outspoken regarding the controversy swirling around this latest distraction. “Council should be letting their professionals do their jobs and not attempt to micro-manage them and then manipulate a temporary manager to do their bidding,” said Callahan.
“Chief Schettino, along with the other professionals that work for the city kept us safe and led us through the terrible events surrounding Hurricane Irma. He kept our children safe in the aftermath of the horrific school shooting in Parkland by immediately acting to send the necessary resources to our schools and leading in the efforts to provide continuing protection to students and staff moving forward,” said Callahan.
“He came in and inherited a mess in a department that needed a strong hand and provided the leadership necessary. Our community now needs to get behind him and the wonderful officers we have,” Callahan added, with her husband Charles at her side.
The temporary city manager has hired Paul Sireci, through the Florida Police Chiefs Education and Research Foundation under the STARS Program (Selection, Training, Assessment Recruitment and Support). He has most recently served as the Acting Police Chief in Wildwood, Florida as they selected their new chief and worked in Wildwood from January 1, 2019 until the beginning of March.
An article early in March in the Villages News, announcing the swearing in of Wildwood’s new chief mentioned that Sireci would be coming to Marco Island for a temporary assignment. This would cast some suspicions on when those arrangements were made, due to the fact that Schettino had only less than two weeks before confirmed he would be leaving the department, but not elaborating on the details.
Sireci is no stranger to Southwest Florida, having risen to the rank of Captain in the Naples Police Department. He began his employment there in 1973 and left in 1995 when he assumed the position of Chief of Public Safety for the Memphis, Tennessee Airport from 1995 to 2002 and then left for the position of Police Chief for Tampa International Airport and held a number of other positions until he retired in 2017 and assumed several consultant positions, including Interim Chief positions in Brooksville, Florida and Wildwood, Florida.
The cost of his services from the Florida Police Chiefs Education and Research Foundation is listed at $17,500, plus $1,000 travel expenses. The two-year contract to search for a new city manager was done for $15,750 in comparison.
Schettino has asked to stay on until June 15, which marks his 10-year anniversary with the city.