Florida Chief Alleges Wide-Ranging Conspiracy To Fire Him

A Florida fire chief who was fired last year is alleging that elected officials, firefighter union members, and others engaged in a wide-ranging plot to destroy his ability to lead the department, and ultimately get him fired. Former Naples Fire Chief Steve McInerny filed a 66-page civil claim with the City of Naples laying out his allegations in addition to filing a 6-page complaint in Collier County Circuit Court.

Chief McInerny was terminated on March 15, 2016 by City Manager William Moss following months of campaigning by members of the city council and Naples Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 2174. The civil claim, which contains much greater detail than the lawsuit, names former Naples Mayor John Sorey; City Manager William Moss; City Councilmembers Samuel J. Saad, Douglas Finlay, Linda S. Penniman, and Teresa L. Heitmann; Local 2174 President Adam P. Nadelman, and union members Corey J. Adamski, Christopher S. Clissold, Peter DiMaria, Dean S. Homan, Steven Kofsky, Mike Moore, Michael. D. Nichols, and Gerald A. Pecar (five of whom received promotions as a result of Chief McInerny’s departure); Marvin Easton, identified as a “political operative” and resident of Nalples; a private attorney, Vicki, L. Sproat, who was hired to investigate union claims against Chief McInerny; and several others.

The civil claim alleges the named defendants:

  • acted individually, in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property, or outright negligence, and were also parties to a civil conspiracy, to expose Stephen McInerny to distrust, hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy and claims of incompetence in an attempt to have him fired or force him to resign as follows.
  • On or before May 29, 2015 Mr. Easton had been illegally authorized, and unilaterally appointed, to act under color of law on behalf of the City of Naples.
  • Easton received this status without any vote or public meeting, allegedly by their illegal authority of Council members Saad, Finlay and Penniman, who instructed Mr. Easton that he was authorized to take binding legal positions, and act as an agent of the City Council, in conjunction with a non-descript “Naples City Council funded” public meeting scheduled for May 29, 2015 in the Naples City Council Chambers.
  • The purpose of the public meeting was allegedly to discuss “Data driven” decision making in the management of Collier County Public Safety including the Fire Department of Naples under Chief Stephen McInerny.
  • This was a veiled presentation which was intended to be critical of the current public safety management, existing fire services and public safety unions.
  • Easton had zero experience in Public Safety management.
  • Easton’s so called “experts,” were offering, without investigation, concepts that in many cases, had been used, was in use, or had been tried or studied and rejected as inefficient by the professionals he claimed were a failure.
  • Easton was a neophyte political operative trying to convince the public he had superior knowledge in his attempt to be relevant.
  • Easton had no concern that he was ruining the reputations of hard working public safety professionals vested with the actual responsibility to protect Collier County.
  • Easton at all times acted negligently and/or in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property or outright negligence.
  • Several Non Naples Firefighter Unions recognized the negative impact the meeting and veiled agenda may have on their departments, membership, safety of firefighters and efficiency. Members of opposing unions sought to attend the meeting but were informed by Easton they may not attend the “public” meeting but were told by Easton they could not attend the public meeting, held in a government facility.
  • Easton was in violation of the Florida Sunshine Act by preventing their attendance. As a matter of law they could not be prevented from attending a “public” meeting on their own time.
  • The Non Naples Unions pushed back against Easton, Saad and other elected officials and political bantering ensued.
  • Chief McInerney was blamed for the opposition since he shared his opinion that the alleged “new” approaches Easton and his so called “experts” were drumming, had in many cases, been used, was in use, or had been tried or studied and rejected as inefficient by the professionals Easton, Finlay and Saad were critical of, including Chief McInerny.
  • However, the Naples Union did not oppose the Easton meeting knowing it was critical of its department and Chief McInerny.
  • It was also odd that during this time the Naples Union told Chief McInerny they would not participate in opposing Easton and his confederates.
  • During this time Easton and elected officials used personal emails to discuss government business in violation of the public records act in order to develop their “secret” agenda.
  • That “secret” agenda, conspiracy and subterfuge, developed before May 2015, finally matured on or around October 21, 2015, when the combined forces of Naples Fire Fighters, Mayor Sorey, Easton and Council Persons , Saad, Finlay and Penniman, used the union as a surrogate to deliver to Union “No Confidence Letter” that the council would published at their meeting hours later knowing the events described below would unfold in public.
  • The letter demanded “that the City take action consistent with the unanimous vote of no confidence in Chief McInerny’s continuing to hold the position of Fire Chief.” In other words, Chief McInerny was an incompetent, so fire him. Get him out of the way for Easton’s narrative.
  • At the time of its writing and delivery to the council members and associated parties knew that the Mayor and Council Members never had any jurisdiction over the Chief of the Fire Department (McInerny), and are precluded as a matter of law, from employment decisions concerning the Fire Chief, as well as other employees, since those decisions are exclusively reserved for the City Manager under the Naples Charter.
  • However, the City Manager, holding the employment decision making over Chief McInerny, is appointed by the Mayor and Council. Therefore, the City Manager is subject to being fired on short notice by any arbitrary Council decision. In this case the City Manager was illegally leveraged and under the duress of being fired, so the City Manager ultimately fired Chief McInerny.
  • However, the associated parties and the Council Members first had to publicly defame, demean and slayed the Chief’s reputation making his continued employment impossible for the appointed City Manager. So the campaign to do defame Chief McInerny ensued.
  • As part of the plan they announced their vile position knowing their publicly announced political winds would deliver their personal veiled threat to the City Manager.
  • The City Manager was their personal appointee who could be fired by the elected officials if he did not listen to their wishes thereby subverting the Charter provision.
  • Also the union and its members were aware of the Charter provision which prevented Council Members from directing employees or interfering with their employment, as well as the scope of the Public Records Act.
  • The Naples Union knew that Council meetings would be televised, that the press would be present, and their planned and performed defamation of the Chief would be further published.
  • As planned, and to generate maximum pressure on the City Manager to fire the Fire Chief, the union circulated the letter of their combined efforts to Mr. Easton and thereafter to the Council and Mayor at 6 AM, just 2 1/2 hours before 8:30 AM, October 21, 2015 meeting. This was intentional.
  • The timing was engineered to generate maximum public ridicule and pressure while avoiding any prepared defensive commentary by the Fire Chief or administrative staff who, on that day supported the Chief.
  • The planned approach was an illegal use of citizen surrogates. The surrogate strategy was employed to circumvent the Charter of the City of Naples which precludes the elected Council from interfering with management and employment decisions concerning Fire Chief, as well as other employees, since the management of those professionals is exclusively reserved for the City Manager under the Naples Charter.
  • The City Charter states: Sec. 2.10. – Members of council not to interfere. No council member shall direct or request the appointment of any person to, or his removal from, office by the city manager or by any of his subordinates, or in any manner take part in the appointment or removal of officers and employees in the administrative service of the appointment or removal of officers and employees in the administrative service of the city except as provided in this Charter. Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the city manager and neither the council, nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinates of the city manager, either publicly or privately.
  • Stephen McInnerny, as Fire Chief, belongs to the class of persons that the Charter Provision was intended to protect.
  • At the October 21, 2015 meeting of the City of Naples the City Attorney again reminded Mayor Sory and members of the Council of the Charter provision.
  • Attorney Robert Pritt advised the Council to avoid any violation of the City Charter or the Civil Rights of the Chief and property interest he may have in his reputation, employment and career.
  • Attorney Robert Pritt admonished the Council repeatedly, telling them and warning them to refrain from discussing the letter they received.
  • The Council members were, through this subterfuge, demanding that the Fire
  • Chief to be fired by their appointee notwithstanding the charter and they we going to make it happen regardless.
  • The advice of Counsel was to avoid the issue knowing it was televised live and streamed and digitally saved.
  • While utilizing media and the public record act to amplify their defamatory information, Respondents’ acted to eradicate the good professional reputation of Stephen McInerny and to create political pressure to box the City Manager into a corner and convince the public that Chief McInerny was not fit to be Chief.
  • So, as planned they violated all advice, operated illegally and acted at the October 21, 2015 council meeting which was simultaneously streamed on the internet and transmitted over Naples TV, and saved for later public viewing, and while knowing of the limitation of council authority, mandated by Charter provision 2.10.
  • Naples Council members, Saad, Finley and Penniman argued on live TV for a resolution that directed the City Manager to take specified action concerning the Fire Chief.
  • This was done after being advised again of the Charter limitation and cautioned by the City Attorney to which Councilman Saad belligerently invited a lawsuit. Then Saad discussed and read [the union’s ] defamatory letter, while knowing of its falsity.
  • “Mr. Moss I have been directed by the membership of the Professional
  • Firefighters of Naples, Local 2174, IAFF to advise you of a vote on a motion of no confidence conducted by the City’s firefighters with respect to the continued tenure of Chief Mclnerny. Be advised that, at our meetings on October 13, 2015 and October 19, 2015, a motion of no confidence in Chief Mclnerny continuing to hold the position of Fire Chief was passed by unanimous vote.”
  • “The motion carried only after serious and lengthy deliberation by members of the Local, all of whom are employees of the City of Naples Fire Department; the motion was made for the express purpose of improving the lot of employees, the Department and the community in general.”
  • “In summary, it is the membership’s position that Chief Mclnerny has created a poor working environment, and has shown both a lack of leadership and an inability to make sound decisions on matters affecting the community.”
  • “Among the many matters giving rise to this motion, and relied upon in discussion with respect to the motion, were the following points read into the record:”
  • “1. The Chief has misled the community and City staff. In particular, he has created the misimpression of need where they do not exist with regard to apparatus and facilities.”
  • “2. The Department’s integrity is in question due to the Chief’s
  • misrepresentations and exaggerations with respect to fire calls, damage, and intensity.”
  • “3. The Chief’s misrepresentations, exaggerations and outright mendacity have created a lack of trust between the Chief and the City’s fire-rescue personnel. As a result, the Chief has lost the ability to effectively lead the City’s firefighters.”
  • “4. The Chief has attempted to influence and otherwise cause the Union to ndermine some City objectives.”
  • “For these, and many other matters of deep concern to the membership, the City’s firefighters respectfully requested that the City take action consistent with the unanimous vote of no confidence in Chief McInerny’s continuing to hold the position of Fire Chief. “
  • Respondents’ actions have caused Stephen McInerny to be avoided and have otherwise injured Stephen McInerny reputation as trustworthy, competent, and fit for duty as a fire chief or professional fire officer causing him to be fired. Respondents’ overt actions caused Claimant to suffer damages, including but not limited to special damages of loss of past and future earnings, physical suffering, physical inconvenience and discomfort, loss of time, mental suffering due to embarrassment, humiliation, deprivation of liberty, and disgrace, together with the damage done to Stephen McInerny’s personal and professional reputation.
  • All actors knew the statements contained in the “No Confidence Letter” were false when made, and the false character known to the writers and council members Mayor Sorey, Council persons Saad, Finlay, Penniman and Heitmann.
  • The true history of the 4 points contained in the Union’s “No Confidence Letter” … is that the 4 items had, in many cases, been approved by the elected officials or other City staff. They had previously been drafted for council approval or discussion by council, vetted by fire department staff including DiMaria, and the City Manager, an discussed and voted upon by the council members including Sorey, Saad, Finley, Penniman and Heitmann.
  • The history of these items were public records and available to all staff including Investigator Vicki Sproat.
  • Relevant is the fact that Investigator Vicki Sproat intentionally avoided using the above described legislative histories to quelch the defamation of the chief but instead sought to use her examinations to amplify the defamation knowing of its propensity for injury.
  • The letter of the Union was later falsely expanded by Ms. Sproat through bolstering defamatory additions, and memos, through witnesses.
  • These written representations were then bolstered by the testimony of firefighters.
  • Their statements were elicited and published during the defamatory churning examination of Ms. Sproat, who repeated defamatory areas without simple follow up questions and introduction of legislative histories to drive to the truth during the fake investigation.
  • The following employees provided defamatory and false statements to Ms. Sproat similar to the memo which they used as a script with her consent after having discussed this item “off record” and then introducing and characterizing it. The testimony followed or mirrored in some cases the exhibit to Ms. Sproat by Mr. Nadelman attached as an exhibit.
  • The persons that provided the similar statements included; Adamski, Corey J., Bills, Randy, W., Bruener, Timothy, S., Carrington, Kathy L, Clissold, Christopher S., DiMaria, Peter, Homan, Dean, S., Howard, David, V., Kofsky, Steven, Moore, Mike, Nadelman, Adam, P., Nichols, Michael, D., Pecar, Phillip, W., Perez, Denise, K. (Matson), A., Watts, Wayne, Zunzunegui, Daniel.
  • The statements were frequently parroted by this group along the following defamatory lines.
  • As the sole and proximate result of Respondents’ ’s false and malicious actions and statements, Claimant has been damaged and defamed and has been held in public ridicule and contempt; was caused to suffer great embarrassment, humiliation, and outrage; was forced to endure questions of friends, family, neighbors and strangers concerning the subject matter of the defamations; was burdened by worry and concern, was caused to lose time from work, and was prevented from properly performing work, suffered damage to both reputation and name; and suffered mental anguish, emotional stress and upset, and was otherwise hurt, injured and damaged.
  • These events concern a continuing tort, involving subterfuge, conspiracy and plan.
  • These continuing tort(s) resulted in the firing of Stephen McInerny as the Fire Chief of the City of Naples on March 15, 2016.

Signed Redact SS Tort Claims Served on Mayor 10_20_2017

Complaint & Demand For Jury Trial

News coverage.

NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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