Officials warn against gatherings like Pahokee ‘party’

PAHOKEE — A large crowd of mostly young people gathered on a city street for an impromptu party here over the weekend, prompting a social media scolding by Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay and a statement from the city manager warning against the public congregating.

Commissioner McKinlay used the event as an example of what people should not be doing during this coronavirus crisis, saying she wished it should prompt the county to go further with its restrictions on public movement and gatherings. On Sunday, she posted this message on her official Facebook page: “So last night in Pahokee there was a 200 person street party. A major fight broke out. This is why we need a curfew and a stay at home order that actually has teeth in it so law enforcement can issue arrest warrants and have these fools charged with a second degree misdemeanor,” she wrote, in a comment that prompted some pushback from Glades residents.

Ms. McKinlay called it, “Another example of the few ruining it for the many. Time for a real order and time for a curfew.”

The word “fools” raised some hackles, though.

After she received some severe criticism, Commissioner McKinlay apologized and clarified her remarks. “If a curfew is ordered by the county, it would apply county-wide. It would not single out any particular community,” she wrote. “My apologies for calling anyone a fool. ‘Foolish behavior’ is a better term. I define that as behavior that puts others at risk.

“Call me names or be upset with me. I’m OK with that. It’s part of the job.

“I recognize when I need to apologize if the way I phrased something was upsetting. Hope others can do the same.”

The whole exchange prompted a firestorm of commentary in the “Real Pahokee Politics” group, with administrator Mike Steele posting, “This is what Palm Beach County thinks of us in Pahokee!” He added later: “She called the people fools, as a commissioner who represents the people. The people who pay her healthy salary. It’s not professional … I’m not saying the behavior was right, but to disrespect the people is wrong.”

But a few members objected to his castigation of Ms. McKinlay; several defended her opinion, noting that she did apologize, and praised her work on behalf of the Glades. JoAnne Culberson wrote: “I agree with her. The crowd’s behavior was wrong in several ways. I would’ve called them stupid.” And Cal Steele-Hicks posted: “With all that’s going on and they’re having a 200 person party — that’s foolish and stupid. There’s no need to sugarcoat it.”

Other officials cut to the chase. City Manager Chandler Williamson posted a statement on the city’s official Facebook page Monday: “It’s imperative I let our residents know the emergency operations team who have led Pahokee through multiple hurricanes/tropical storms are currently committed to leading you through the nation’s pandemic (COVID-19).

“We need your help; stay home if you can, do not use this time to have large gatherings, parties or events. Please refrain from congregating in the community. The ‘Stay Home Stay Safe Emergency Order’ issued by Palm Beach County is for you and your family’s health and safety.

“Social contact with others at less than 6 feet could increase the spread of this horrible virus. The marina and all city parks are closed for any activity including exercise, scenic walking, or parking.

“City Hall is closed to walk-ins. City staff encourages any resident that requires a visit to City Hall to first call or email. We will do our very best to complete your business via online without requiring you to visit a city building or come in human contact with staff.

“The city’s social media platforms are regularly updated and are an important method of getting the most up to date changes on the coronavirus.

“Please continue to visit this official Facebook page for all information involving city operations, official meetings, and COVID-19 updates for Pahokee and Palm Beach County.

“May God Bless Pahokee and our nation.”

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Media Relations Department issued this brief report in response to a query Monday: “March 28, 1:50 a.m.: Deputies responded to the 700 block of Waddle Way (Padgett Island), Pahokee, in regards to approximately 200-300 people in the area playing loud music, drinking and socializing. Multiple fights broke out; additional deputies responded to help with crowd control. Multiple people were arrested for affray and resisting deputies without violence. No deputies were injured in the process.”

PBSO Public Information Officer Teri Barbera said there will be extra patrols in the area as well as education on deterring large gatherings.

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