The town of Windermere is accused of violating its own charter by former Tree Board chairwoman Theresa Schretzmann-Myers.
During the April 11 Windermere Town Council meeting, Schretzmann-Myers and her husband, Ernest Myers, an attorney, expressed concern regarding the town manager’s decision to request that Theresa Schretzmann-Myers resign from the tree board.
During the public forum, they stated Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith — and by extension, the town — acted in contradiction to two provisions in the town charter and in the Windermere Land Development Code.
On April 2, Smith requested Schretzmann-Myers resign from the Tree Board in a “closed-door meeting” involving Smith, Theresa Schretzmann-Myers, and Town Council Member Chris Sapp, who also serves as the Tree Board liaison.
According to Section 8.02 in the charter, which outlines the powers and duties of the town manager, a town manager has the power “to direct and supervise the administration of all departments and offices (except for) Town boards or committees, unless directed by the Town Council.”
And the Windermere Land Development Code’s Section 11.04.01(1) states a town board member may only be removed “by a majority vote of the Town Council.”
“The charter is pretty clear that it’s the Town Council who makes that decision, and it should be in a public forum,” Schretzmann-Myers said. “And, frankly, he and Chris Sapp called me into the office and demanded that I resign voluntarily. And I said I’m not going to voluntarily resign. If you want my resignation, you ask for it, and you tell me in writing why you want my resignation.”
Smith said he asked for her resignation following comments and concerns he received from Tree Board members, Town Council members and town residents regarding the tree board’s lack of progress on projects. He also emphasized he did not forcibly remove her from the board and only requested her resignation, which was well within his power as town manager, he said.
“During that meeting, I suggested that the best way to move the Tree Board forward would be for her to step down as chairperson and resign from the Tree Board,” Smith said. “At that time, she accepted, with the condition that I draft a later to her requesting her to resign, which I did. She drafted a letter in response accepting the request to resign, and that was it. … Yes, only the Town Council has the ability to remove somebody from a board or committee, but it says nothing about somebody resigning from a committee.
“When I asked her to possibly resign from the committee, she had the choice of either saying no and moving forward as chairperson or to resign,” he said. “So she had that choice. Nobody forced her to resign. No land-development codes or procedures were violated. … I’ve also discussed it with our attorneys, and we did nothing wrong. It was a resignation. She was not forced off the Tree Board. If she didn’t want to resign, she had that choice not to.”
Schretzmann-Myers said she ultimately resigned upon Smith’s request because she felt pressured and frequently came into conflict with the town manager and town staff.
“I resigned because when the town manager is constantly refusing to work with you, and you’re constantly butting heads,” she said. “I mean, I would constantly have to ask them to follow their own tree ordinance.”
Schretzmann-Myers and her husband also implied the town may have committed a violation of Florida Sunshine Law — a series of state laws intended to make public records and government business more accessible and transparent to the public.
“I have reviewed the minutes of all recent meetings of the Town Council held in the sunshine, and I have found no direction, nor any discussion for that matter, by the Town Council to the town manager to interact himself into the administration of the tree board,” Ernest Myers said. “This is troubling because, at a minimum, both council member (Chris) Sapp and Mayor (Jim) O’Brien knew that Mr. Smith would be seeking Mrs. Myer’s resignation at the April 2 meeting. This implies that either direct communication about the issue, or there was indirect communication through Mr. Smith as an intermediary.”
According to Florida Sunshine Law, a town or city manager may communicate with council members regarding town business, but elected officials, such as Town Council members, may not communicate with each other regarding government matters outside of public meetings that adhere to sunshine regulations.
Schretzmann-Myers, who volunteered on the board for 15 years, remains on the town’s Historical Preservation Board. Smith added he still looks forward to working with her in future projects.
“It’s hard, but I think it was necessary,” he said, commenting on the decision to request her resignation. “It’s tough, because you’re asking a volunteer to step down. But she still sits on the Historical Preservation Board; she’s still in the community, and I still look forward to working with her and the community when it comes to a lot of these projects.”
Note: The version of this article printed in the April 18 edition of The Observer refers to Ernest Myers as "Ernest Schretzmann-Myers." This has been corrected.