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Former Port Richey police chief fired

PORT RICHEY — Last month, the city received a tongue-in-cheek letter suggesting new office policies for city employees.

The policies touch on shorter bathroom breaks ("Entirely too much time is being spent on the toilet"), lunch breaks ("Skinny people get 30 minutes for lunch, as they need to eat more, so they can look healthy"), and personal days (Each employee will receive 104 personal days a year. They are called Saturdays & Sundays").

The letter has made the rounds on countless Web sites, poking fun at office culture. But the version that arrived at City Hall had the name "Richard Reade, City Manager" at the bottom, as if he authorized it.

Reade wasn't amused. His reaction? To fire Bill Sager — former police chief and detective, now working as a patrolman — who is accused of circulating the letter among city employees.

Sager, 52, flatly denies sending it.

And he said the city didn't follow proper protocol. As a union member, he's entitled to an investigation, including a chance to offer his version of events, before being fired.

"I wasn't notified of any investigation," said Sager, a 23-year member of the force. "I'm astounded. I was never questioned. Nothing."

The city sent Sager a letter Wednesday firing him, alluding to the tongue-in-cheek memo and saying Sager violated two city policies, and possibly a third.

Those policies, according to the city's personnel manual:

"The employee is offensive in his/her conduct or language in public or toward the public, officials or employees."

"The employee is responsible for an intentional act or course of conduct violating duties or obligations of his/her position."

And, possibly, "the employee has committed an act which violates the criminal laws of the State of Florida or has been convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude."

Reade declined to answer any questions about Sager's termination.

"I can't comment on personnel issues," he said.

• • •

The letter that arrived at City Hall doesn't have Sager's name on it. Nor does the envelope, which bears the return address of P.O. Box 911 in Port Richey.

So how did the city trace it to Sager?

City officials say they filed a Freedom of Information Act with the U.S. Postal Service to find out who uses P.O. Box 911. The answer: the Port Richey Police Bargaining Unit, W.C.F. Police Benevolent Association.

The name of the person who applied for the box? William A. Sager.

But Sager said each of the department's 11 officers has access to the union's post office box. And anyone can drop a letter into the mail with any return address they like.

• • •

This week, Sager celebrated his 23rd year on the force from home.

Sager has been on sick leave since May after being diagnosed with a herniated disc stemming from an altercation with a suspect last year. Sager said he received a termination letter in the mail at his home on Thursday.

It was sent by City Attorney Michael Brannigan, and copied to Reade.

Sager's personnel file contains no red flags. But in 2007, then-interim city manager James Mathieu called Sager a "disgruntled employee" after Sager wrote a memo alleging a candidate for public safety director used the "n" word during a conversation with Sager.

Sager's memo went missing, and the candidate, Mathias J. Brewi, got the job anyway. Brewi has since left the department.

Mayor Richard Rober said Reade would not have fired Sager if there hadn't been a valid reason to do so. Rober said with Sager out on leave and receiving workman's compensation, the situation "would turn into something legal."

"My question would be, first off, how do we know Officer Sager wrote it?" Rober said.

Perry Bean, a City Council member, said he stands by Reade's decision.

"If our city manager has good cause to release an employee," Bean said, "we have no choice but to believe him."

• • •

On Friday, Sager went to the Police Department and turned in his identification card and gun, as Brannigan's letter requested.

Sager also filed a public records request for any documents related to his termination.

He plans to return Monday to turn in his uniform.

Sager planned to retire in two years. Now, he's considering taking legal action against his former employer.

"To be served termination by mail," Sager said, "that's absolutely amazing."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Former Port Richey police chief fired 09/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 4:33pm]
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