PORT RICHEY — Two weeks ago, veteran police officer Bill Sager was shocked to learn he was fired for supposedly sending a tongue-in-cheek letter suggesting new office policies for city employees.
"I wasn't notified of any investigation," said Sager, a 23-year member of the force. "I'm astounded. I was never questioned. Nothing."
On Thursday, he got a chance to defend himself at City Hall.
Sager, 52, said the city failed to follow protocol by firing him before he got a chance to defend himself. He said he has applied for unemployment and wants to be compensated for a violation of his constitutional rights.
"I feel like some progress has been made," Sager said after the hearing, "but I'm still unemployed."
Jim Diamond, Sager's representative from the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, the police officer's union, said the city found Sager guilty prematurely.
"Our position is, before you accuse anybody of anything, prove your case," Diamond said.
The letter in question was sent to city officials last month. Its policies jokingly make reference to issues like personal days ("Each employee will receive 104 personal days a year. They are called Saturdays & Sundays").
The letter can be found on countless Web sites. But the version that was sent to City Hall had the name "Richard Reade, City Manager," at the bottom, as if he had authorized it.
Reade didn't find the letter funny, and fired Sager after accusing him of circulating it among city employees.
Sager, who was once the police chief before returning to patrol duty, denies sending the letter.
City officials said they traced Sager to a post office box, but it is also used by members of the police union.
Sager said he applied for the post office box in May so that officers could correspond outside of City Hall.
"The mere fact that he opened up a post office box we all could use doesn't make him guilty of sending this letter," Diamond said.
A Times reporter was denied access to the 30-minute hearing, attended by Reade, Sager, Diamond and City Attorney Michael Brannigan.
Brannigan said the hearing was "a closed employee personnel meeting."
After the hearing, Diamond said if city officials find Sager innocent, he wants Sager to return to the police force.
Sager has been on sick leave since May after being diagnosed with a herniated disc stemming from an altercation with a suspect last year.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.