City manager retires suddenly, citing emotional and physical distress

The sudden retirement of City Manager Shawn Boyle at Monday night’s Winter Springs City Commission meeting led to an outpouring of support and a vocal condemnation of “a cancer that’s eating this city” spread on social media platforms. 

The announcement came without preface. Between votes on other city business, City Clerk Christian Gowan announced he had a brief statement from Boyle, who was absent, that he was retiring. 

“The emotional and physical distress that I have been under make me unable to continue working as the city manager for the City of Winter Springs,” the statement from Boyle read, in part. 

Boyle had already amassed enough years at the city to collect his retirement pension, Mayor Kevin McCann later said. But quickly city residents, two former city commissioners and several current commissioners laid blame for Boyle’s departure on what one called a group pushed by developers “prepared to burn this city down to get what they want.”

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At a recent public meeting between representatives from cities within Seminole County, Commissioner Victoria Colangelo, representing Winter Springs, asked other cities’ officials for advice on how to fire the city manager. McCann lamented social media posts that he said falsely accused city staffers of having inappropriate sexual relationships with each other. 

“I will tell you what I read on social media are flat out lies, exaggerations and pointing fingers by people who don’t have the guts to come here and face the commission and speak the truth,” resident Art Gallo said. “I’m disappointed, because in my eyes that means the faction that was against him won, and they shouldn’t have won, and we shouldn’t have allowed this to happen.”

The city had recently become subject of a state audit of the city’s finances, which Boyle said he welcomed. 

“I’ve been here 13 years. I’ve seen a lot of stuff going on,” Boyle said on Jan. 30. “I haven’t had an audience that’s independent and open minded. This is my perspective and the staff’s perspective at least. I’m really excited about these folks coming in. I have a lot to tell them that is not in that audit that I think they left the door open because it says ‘and all of the things that they can look into.’ And I am really excited about that. There’s some things that have been building up inside of me for 13 years and I’ve really wanted to talk to somebody about it. So I welcome the audit.” 

An audit by the county was also announced after the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee announced its audit. 

Comments that followed the retirement announcement eulogized Boyle’s career at the city while blaming “The political shitstorm that has been leveled by a couple of political operatives at this city.”

Audibly shaken, interim finance director Donna Bruno said she’d be “missing a great leader.” 

“I’ve worked for [Boyle] for many, many years, and I don’t think you’re going to find anybody who’s going to give this city more heart and of himself than he did,” Bruno said. “I watched him choke back tears talking about the flooding victims, as I was one of them. I just want you all to know that I’m choking back tears now.”

“You don’t come by people like Shawn Boyle very often,” Deputy Mayor Rob Elliott said. “You do not come by hands-on executives who actually care.” 

“Wherever he’s going, if he’s got another position somewhere, it’s their gain and our loss, by far,” Elliott added. “Do I think we’re going to find another Shawn Boyle out there? Hopefully. But in my experience in the business world for going on almost 40 years now, you don’t find people like that. You find people who look at documents and push their pen around, but they’re not showing up out there slopping through the sewers and slopping through the mud. I’m personally going to miss the guy.”

Then former Commissioner Kevin Cannon approached the audience podium and told a chilling story that he said explained why certain city officials had been targeted on social media and elsewhere. 

“In February two years ago [former Mayor Charles Lacey], at the conclusion of a city staff meeting was asked by City Manager Boyle ‘Why is Commissioner Cannon always getting beat up on social media?’ to which Charles Lacey said ‘Because the developers and the Realtors and a couple of large landowners have decided Cannon’s got to go, and so does [Former Commissioner TiAnna] Hale. We have a plan: two election cycles, possibly three, but they’re going to retake control of the commission, so that the developers can build the city out the way the developers see fit.’ That’s the answer folks. That’s the answer.”

“This city’s about to be transformed dramatically, and much for the worse,” Cannon added.

The Commission immediately voted to offer Public Works Director Phil Hursh the role of interim city manager, pending contract negotiations. 

“If he wants the job, you’d better run and grab him and make sure he signs on tonight on the dotted line,” resident Gina Shafer said.

Hursh, who had worked under Boyle in their push to rebuild the city’s water systems – the largest public works project in city history – saw unanimous approval from commissioners, and accolades from residents in the audience. 

Addressing the City Commission, resident William Morissey said, “He’s the best man for the job.” 

The Commission voted 5-0 to offer the job to Hursh. 

After the final vote to ensure continuity of city manager functions, McCann gave a speech of gratitude to the remaining staff. 

“To our city staff, thank you,” McCann said. “To every one of you, past and present, thank you. Thank you for everything that you do for us. I call on all of you that… don’t let a small group of people saying horrendous things about you … know that the vast majority of us care about you. I hope that you all believe that and [Police Chief Matt Tracht] I hope that your officers all believe that, although they may not see it on social media.” 

Though not officially signed up for the job yet, Hursh, during staff reports, gave his first report since being offered the city’s top job. 

“We’ve received notification from District 5 of the DOT that the speed limit through the entire city will be 45mph,” Hursh said. The request had been made last year by the Commission, who had debated the merits and problems of having the speed limit of S.R. 434 change multiple times within the city.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Boyle’s announcement as a resignation rather than a retirement.

Listen to the full meeting here

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