Okeechobee Police Department adds two officers and discusses some changes at city council meeting

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee Police Department (OPD) held a swearing-in ceremony for its two newest officers and explained some changes in the department at the Tuesday, May 1, City Council meeting.

“We very rarely have openings here and to have two openings at the same time is an extremely rare event,” said Police Chief Bob Peterson. “We are a small agency and do not have a lot of openings, so it is hard to get hired, as it should be. I don’t hire the new people; the hiring board comprised of five sergeants, the lieutenant and the major do that.

They go through the applications, conduct the interviews and make their recommendations to me. These two applicants, Jason Gavern and Jessica Francis, went through that process and were recommended by all seven members of the board.”

Okeechobee Police Department officially welcomed its two newest officers, Jason Gavern and Jessica Francis. The two of them, along with Chief Bob Peterson, are seen having an enjoyable moment during their swearing-in ceremony that took place at the council meeting on the evening of Tuesday, May 1. Courtesy photo from OPD.

Chief Peterson then introduced Officers Jessica Francis and Jason Gavern to the council.

Officer Francis moved to Okeechobee when she was 8 years old. She was formerly employed by the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office from 2015 until her transfer to the city. Officer Gavern was already in the auxiliary program and in the process of becoming a part-time officer in the midst of his field training portion when the openings became available. Officer Gavern was a member of the Scranton Police Department in Pennsylvania in 1998 to 2006 when he moved to Kissimmee to pursue his professional boxing career in the heavyweight division.

Chief Peterson admonished the council to watch the fight between Officer Gavern and Alexander Ustinov, known as “The Giant Russian” because of his 6’8” 320 pound stature, on YouTube stating, “I’ve watched it and can attest that he can take a beating,” which was followed by a symphony of laughter from those in attendance. “Gavern has 54 professional fights under his belt and walked away with a winning record,” Chief Peterson added.

“These are great candidates and we are glad to have both of you,” Chief Peterson continued before he invited the new officers’ guests to pin the city badge on their uniforms during the oath of office swearing-in ceremony.

Officer Francis addressed the council, “I hope that I am part of the family and make you all proud.”

“Personally, I am very happy to see you with the city police,” Councilman Gary Ritter replied.

Officer Gavern addressed the council, “I appreciate the opportunity and I’m excited to get back on the road, thank you.”

Mayor Watford stated, “Welcome to our city family, we are proud that you chose to apply with us and are really excited just to have you both. Like the chief said, it’s kind of unusual for us to have two openings like that and I think you’ll find out why once you really get started, I think you’ll really enjoy it. Congratulations and welcome aboard!”

The police chief also explained some recent changes in the department.

“The number one complaint I receive from citizens are traffic related,” said Chief Peterson.

“I get more complaints related to traffic from the citizens and businesses than all other complaints combined. We are going to assign Officer Ryan Holroyd – who volunteered – to utilize a department owned black Dodge Charger with subdued striping during business hours, Monday through Friday, for the foreseeable future to address the issue.”

OPD Chief Peterson also introduced new school resource officer (SRO) Kelley Margerum, who was recuperating from surgery during the last meeting and is poised to have Central Elementary School as her duty assignment, stating, “She has been with us for 13 years and I don’t believe I have ever seen her not smile. She volunteered for this job, with her first official day at the school being next Monday, May 7.”

Okeechobee Police Department Officer Kelley Margerum was introduced to the council at the Tuesday, May 1, regular meeting by Chief Bob Peterson and Major Donald Hagan as one of the newly appointed School Resource Officers for the city. Officer Margerum’s duty assignment will officially start Monday, May 7, at Central Elementary School. Courtesy photo from OPD.

“Kelley, thank you, we look forward to your service,” said Mayor Watford. “We know how serious this job is with the new legislation that we are forced to comply with, but I’d like to thank you for volunteering for this position. I agree with the chief that the two SROs we have selected will be perfect matches for the school and look forward to hearing great things from them.”

In other business, Okeechobee Mayor Dowling R. Watford Jr. proclaimed the month of May as “Building Safety Month.” Mayor Watford presented the proclamation certificate to City of Okeechobee Building Department building official Jeffrey Newell. Mayor Watford also proclaimed the week of May 6 – 12, as “Municipal Clerks Week” in the city and presented the proclamation certificate to City Clerk Lane Gamiotea and Deputy Clerk Bobbie Jenkins.

Mayor Watford’s final proclamation was that the week of May 21 – 27, be recognized in the city as “National Public Works Week” with the proclamation certificate presented to Public Works Director David Allen.

In an open public hearing for ordinance adoption, the council voted on the motion to adopt proposed Ordinance No. 1165. Ordinance No. 1165 rezoned an 8,172 square-foot (.19 acre) property, vacant from Residential Multiple Family to Heavy Commercial. The property is proposed to be used as part of the existing Gilbert Outdoors commercial use.

In business actions at the Tuesday meeting:

• The council approved an amendment to a previously approved purchase order to include the costs in the amount of $2,066.32 for additional repairs to Fire Engine 7. Okeechobee Fire Department Fire Chief Herb Smiths request stated, the council approved the dollar amount of $16,457.08 during the March 6, meeting. During the process of repairs, Ten-8 Fire Equipment contacted Chief Smith to inform that the pump transmission shift fork assembly required repairs due to wear and tear. They also stated the relief valve (not part of the original repair) had visible wear and tear and should be replaced while the pump was disassembled as the valve can be reached more easily. The shift fork repair will cost $238.65 and the relief valve repair will cost $1,827.67 for a total of $2,066.32. The final cost of the repairs is $18,523.40 which includes both the original (council approved) amount of $16,457.08 and the new additional costs of $2,066.32.

• The council approved a budget amendment to reallocate expenditures to the Law Enforcement Fund.

• The council approved the purchase of four police radios for the School Resource Officers Program. Two portable radios were purchased for $8,302.60 and two mobile radios were purchased for $9,368.80 for a total of $17,671.40 from Communications International located in Vero Beach.

• The council ratified the re-appointments of Willie Hall as the Fifth Trustee and Jackie Dunham as an Elected Fund Trustee to the General Employees Pension Fund with terms ending Dec. 31, 2021.

• Approved an amendment to the Personnel Policies and Procedures of Chapter 2 – Hiring Process, in paragraph three under Qualification regarding the residence requirement. The new paragraph will read, “Appointees must be citizens or resident aliens of the State of Florida and the United States of America.”

• The council appointed Councilwoman Monica Clark as an alternate member to the Health Start Board.

Mayor Watford presented the proclamation certificate for Building Safety Month to City of Okeechobee Building Department building official Jeffrey Newell (left).


Mayor Watford proclaimed the week of May 6 – 12, as Municipal Clerks Week in the city and presented the proclamation certificate to City Clerk Lane Gamiotea (left) and Deputy Clerk Bobbie Jenkins (right).


Left to right, Kay Chapman, Donnie Robertson, Kade Smith, Trevor Brady, Willie Hall, Marvin Roberts, Cody Rodriguez, Jeff Treece and Public Works Director David Allen were presented the proclamation certificate by Mayor Dowling R. Watford Jr. at the Tuesday, May 1, council meeting in recognition of “National Public Works Week” during the week of May 20 to May 26.

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