Tensions run high at Okeechobee City Council meeting

OKEECHOBEE — Tension ran high Tuesday night after Councilman Bobby Keefe made a motion not to renew the contract of City Attorney John Cook when it expires in September. During the regular city council meeting on June 18, the agenda called for a discussion of current and future needs for legal services. It was during this discussion that Councilman Keefe made his motion not to renew Mr. Cook’s contract and to publish an RFQ (Request for Qualifications). The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Monica Clark.

Mayor Dowling Watford said he would never support such a motion, and he did not think they would find it as easy as they thought to find someone to replace Attorney Cook.

Councilwoman Clark said her main concern was making sure the city had someone at every meeting, and she felt they might need to split the services. “Maybe it’s beyond a single person,” she said. “Maybe we should use him in some capacities and someone else in others.”

Councilman Wes Abney said, “I don’t think we need to terminate his contract. I believe he does a good job, but we need more representation.”

Councilman Bob Jarriel was absent from the meeting.

Attorney Cook said he believes he has attended 90 percent of the meetings in the 31 years he has been the attorney for the city.

Retired Mayor James Kirk said, “Sometimes we look for a problem where there is no problem. That man has done more for the city than you can imagine.” He went on to caution the council that they could not afford a big law firm. “If he needs a little help, get him some. He’s being paid a fraction of what he’s worth,” he said. “I’m not real proud of what transpired here tonight.”

When they voted, Councilman Bobby Keefe was the only member to vote to approve the motion.

Councilwoman Clark made a new motion to come up with a job description within the next 60 days that encompasses all the duties for attorney services the city wants. This job description would be used when it is time to negotiate Attorney Cook’s new contract in September. Councilman Keefe seconded that motion. Mayor Watford voted no on this motion, and everyone else voted yes.

In other business:

• Fire Lt. Glenn Hodges was presented with a 25-year longevity service award and a bonus.

• Police Officer Jack Boon was presented a certificate of appreciation for his years of service on the Police Officers’ Pension Fund Board of Trustees — Jan. 30, 2014 – May 31, 2019.

• Police Officer Jack Boon was presented a Certificate of Retirement.

• Police Officer Ramon Liberato was sworn in.

• Debbie A. Goode, CPA, presented a review of the 2018 fiscal year audited financials, and the pension funds were found to be more than adequately funded. The city is financially secure.

• The council approved a new SRO at OCA, funded by OCA but supervised by the SRO program. This will be a city police officer.

• Fireworks was a concern mentioned by Councilwoman Clark. She said in her neighborhood people are already setting off fireworks, and people don’t seem to realize it is a big problem for some of their neighbors. Autistic children are often terrified of the loud noises, and many pets have to be medicated on those holidays. This is expensive for the pet owners. In recent years, people don’t set them off just for a couple hours on the Fourth of July or on New Year’s Eve. They want to use them for days before and days after, and they want to use them until 2 or 3 a.m.

“For one thing, it’s illegal,” she said. In the State of Florida, only sparklers are legal for consumer use. You cannot use shells, mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets or firecrackers. All of those things are illegal. If your neighbor calls the police, they can take all of your fireworks. Most people aren’t going to call the police and complain on the Fourth of July if you are setting them off during reasonable hours. It’s still not legal, but they probably won’t complain. But, if you are setting them off for days and days, they will probably complain, and your fireworks will be confiscated.

Fire Chief Herb Smith (left) and Mayor Dowling Watford (right) present Fire Lt. Glenn Hodges with a 25-year Longevity Service Award and a bonus. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Police officer Jack Boon (center) is presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for his years of service on the Police Officers Pension Fund Board of Trustees, Jan. 30, 2014 to May 31, 2019, and a Certificate of Retirement by Police Chief Bob Peterson (left) and Mayor Dowling Watford (right). Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Police Chief Bob Peterson swears in new officer Ramon Liberato Jr. as his father, Ramon Sr., looks on proudly. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
New police officer Ramon Liberato Jr. is pinned by his mother, Olivia Liberato, at his swearing-in ceremony. Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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