Backlash loud after Pahokee meeting abruptly canceled

PAHOKEE — The surreptitious cancellation of a regularly scheduled Pahokee City Commission meeting set for Tuesday night, July 14, riled up some residents into a revolt of sorts against the city manager, who made that decision but apparently neglected to post any notification. People really didn’t notice the move until over the weekend, and anger erupted online as the week began.

City Commissioner Regina Bohlen said July 16 she had not initially been notified but had heard about it, so she emailed City Manager Chandler Williamson on Friday, July 10: “I sent him an email asking, ‘Why aren’t we having a meeting on Tuesday, July 14? I don’t remember voting to cancel that meeting.’

“And the answer that I got back, two days later, on Monday, was: ‘Commissioner, as previously mentioned, when there is no city business — a resolution, agreement, contract, procurement approval — an agenda is not prepared by staff. We only require votes for cancellation of a meeting if a meeting is planned and it falls on holidays, commission travel or election days. Per our city charter, we are required to post notice and (have) one meeting per month. Not having two meetings does not interrupt our ability to do business as a city. Our next meeting is July 28.’ That’s what Williamson said,” Bohlen recounted.

She had made a motion at the previous meeting, June 23, to immediately fire the city manager with cause because of a third Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General (PBC OIG) report in under two years finding misconduct, this time financial in nature, on Williamson’s part. The move failed on a 3-2 vote with Bohlen and Mayor Keith W. Babb Jr. voting yes, although the city attorney declared it out of order after the motion had been made and seconded.

Bohlen intends to press her case at the next meeting. She explained: “Protocol for the city manager under the Ordinance 2019-02 calls for the city manager to set the agenda,” and “instead of being able to just say, ‘I would like to have this on the agenda for the next meeting’ or whatever, now it has to go to a vote. To put something on the agenda, (a commissioner must) bring it up at a meeting, say ‘I’m going to add it to the agenda’ and then ask two other commissioners to say yes to it before it can go on the agenda.” This procedure stands, Bohlen added, under a resolution passed last year over her sole “nay” vote.

“It will not be a problem,” Bohlen declared. “I will bring up that and a preliminary resolution to terminate the city manager with cause.”

On social media, Mike Steele, an administrator of the Facebook page “Real Pahokee Politics,” posted there on Tuesday: “I am so disappointed in the City of Pahokee. I think it is safe to say it is time for all of the city commissioners to resign or quit. If they allow (Williamson) to continue as the city manager, then we are in BIG Trouble! This means that the city commission doesn’t care about the residents in the city, nor do they care about the current state of the city. This also means that (Williamson) isn’t the only one that is stealing money from the city! Here is the Investigative Report 2019-0005. Take a BIG LOOK at this foolishness!!”

Mr. Steele provided the link to the latest OIG report: www.pbcgov.com/oig/docs/reports/06-24-20-Pahokee-City_Credit_Card_Investigative_Report-2019-0005.pdf.

And then he summarized: “Basically, the city manager used the city credit card for personal use. He funded vacation trips with the city’s money. What is sad is that he broke the law and still has a 125,000-a-year salary. … You cannot steal from the city and expect people to trust you.”

The backlash on social media and elsewhere calling for the removal of City Manager Williamson has been unabated since a the PBC OIG report was released in June recommending state and county prosecutors investigate their findings that he’d used city credit cards for unauthorized expenses. Two previous county OIG reports during the past two years have found complaints of improper conduct by Williamson were justified.

On another Pahokee Facebook page titled “Home Sweet Home,” Pahokee resident and frequent gadfly at city commission meetings Catherine Marvez posted this remark: “Please share, everyone. I was thinking about the recommendation to file criminal charges (against Williamson) as per the IG recommendation. If you feel charges should be filed, please call Dave Aronberg, the Palm Beach (County) state attorney, and voice your request that charges be filed, 561-355-7100. I have heard comment about previous investigations not coming to fruition and, as a former investigative staff member, I know that public requests can make a huge difference and take precedence over cases with no one to champion them. Make your voice heard. The IG listened, and now we must ask the AG (Florida Attorney General’s) Office to listen as well. Ashley Moody is the attorney general…”

Pahokee’s next commission meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 28.

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