Plank removal leads to firings

AM Pier Firing
A plank memorializing Phil Guttridge was removed by city workers without permission and given to the owner.

ANNA MARIA – A family’s concerns about an engraved pier plank and a friend’s efforts to help cost two Anna Maria Public Works Department employees their jobs.

Last week, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy fired Peter Piir and Taylor Mannhart after they removed two engraved planks from the Anna Maria City Pier without permission.

Speaking by phone Monday, Piir said he removed one of the planks for his friend Denise Raykov, a Holmes Beach resident who lost her son, Phil Guttridge, in 2007.

“She called and asked me if I could do something. I went out there to look at it and saw it was close to the entrance so I pulled it up. I just thought I’d get it now before it got lost or screwed up,” Piir said.

“I wish I would’ve asked. I didn’t do it for any kind of gain. I was trying to be a nice person,” he added.

Guttridge’s grandparents, Richard and Jeanette Langer, live in Bradenton Beach. The plank Piir removed said, “Beloved Grandson Phil Guttridge 1985-2007.”

Piir removed the plank toward the end of his workday on Friday, Dec. 19, and asked Mannhart to help. While there, Mannhart reportedly removed another plank that said, “10/13/92 In loving memory Gumby 7/18/12.” Efforts to contact Mannhart for this story were unsuccessful.

When Public Works Manager Dean Jones learned of these events the following Monday, he retrieved the plank Piir gave Raykov. The city is in possession of both planks.

Murphy confirmed the dismissals, but said he could not discuss personnel matters. He would only say the pier planks are city property, and no one was authorized to remove them. After the firings, City Attorney Becky Vose issued a legal opinion that said the commemorative planks became city property when they were installed on the pier, and they remain the sole property of the city.

The city plans to return the engraved planks to those who properly requested them. Piir was aware of these plans, but concerned his friend’s plank might get damaged.

“I broke the board myself, and I was very careful trying to bring it up,” Piir said.

Piir has been with city since 2008 and he worked two days a week cutting grass. He said this was the first time he’s gotten into any trouble.

“They charged me with misappropriation of city property. I pled guilty to that. I thought I’d get a couple weeks off without pay, but I thought it was excessive to fire me. Most companies would give you another chance,” Piir said.

On Monday, Raykov said her son used to work as a chef on the pier. She was excited when she heard the planks might grace the walls inside a new pier restaurant, but she got nervous when she learned that was no longer in the plans.

In mid-January, Raykov’s parents, the Langers, contacted the city by email and requested the plank be set aside, but the automated response they received left them with a sense of uncertainty.

“I was thinking maybe Pete can do something. I just wish he had asked permission. I feel terrible. I feel like it’s my fault. He’s got a heart of gold and he’s only trying to do good. I can’t see firing him for the first thing he did wrong in 10 years,” Raykov said.

After Piir was fired, Richard Langer emailed Murphy and asked him to reconsider.

“Isn’t there a less drastic measure? Pete was just doing what Pete does, and that’s to help in any way he can. We don’t think he should be penalized in this manner for trying to do a good deed,” Langer wrote.

In response, Murphy wrote, “The plank is in safe keeping and will be given to you once the city obtains the proper permits to remove planks from the pier. I share in your disappointment over this incident. Unfortunately, I cannot address your request concerning the discharge of Mr. Piir. It remains a matter between the city and Mr. Piir.”

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