City of Pahokee needs a change

Guest Commentary

By David Ruiz

I listened in to the special meeting of the Pahokee City Commission on June 30 regarding the OIG’s “Investigative Report 2019-0005; City of Pahokee Inappropriate Purchasing Card Expenditures.” I was hoping that a majority if not all around the dais would support and vote to terminate the city manager with cause. The purpose of the meeting as described by the mayor was to make public that the commission was aware of the report and to let the community weigh in during public comment. All but one of the public comment submissions were in favor of removing the manager.

My letter, which I sent to the commission the day before, was read but not in its entirety. I noted when I submitted it that if the full letter could not be read due to time constraints, that the last two paragraphs be read into the record. This was not done. So, I will include it here:

“My heart breaks for my city (where I grew up) as I have been actively watching and attending city government meetings since high school. I have witnessed the many managers that have led Pahokee since Ken Schenck. The track record of Pahokee’s municipal managers has been inadequate. This to me is what makes what Williamson has allegedly done more egregious. Knowing our history with firing managers and past issues with former administrations, this manager has once again placed the city under further scrutiny.

“The commission must take swift action to avoid a tenuous relationship between the community and their elected body. It is time for the Pahokee City Commission to terminate the city manager with cause. Pahokee must seek a capable and untarnished municipal manager to renew Pahokee’s future.”

I was disturbed by a few observations at the special meeting. Vice Mayor Clara Murvin had no comment. Commissioner Benny L. Everett III wants to wait for the final findings by the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission and the State Attorney’s Office to make a final decision on the manager’s fate. Commissioner Felisia Hill also stated she wanted to wait to see what comes from the State’s Attorney’s Office. Mayor Keith Babb did not have a personal comment on the matter. The city attorney waited more than an hour (1:06:57) into the meeting to bring up the charter’s removal section, which the commission should have been advised of prior to the special meeting. I do not remember the city using the method below in previous firings of the city manager. When was the last time this process was followed in terminating a charter officer?

“Section 3.03. – Removal: To remove a Charter officer, the city commission shall adopt a preliminary resolution stating reasons for the intended removal and shall offer the Charter officer an opportunity for public hearing before the commission on the matters raised by the resolution. This preliminary resolution may also suspend the Charter officer from duty immediately with pay. The Charter officer must accept the offer of public hearing or file a written response within ten (10) days of the adoption of the preliminary resolution or the resolution becomes final at the expiration of this ten-day period and the Charter officer is terminated on that date. If the public hearing is requested it shall be held not earlier than twenty (20) days or later than thirty (30) days after the adoption of the preliminary resolution.

“After such public hearing, or after consideration of any written response, the commission shall adopt a final resolution of removal or let the preliminary resolution lapse.”

My main issue with what Everett and Hill stated was that if you read the full 50-page report, there is no further evidence or proof needed because this is the third report questioning the city manager’s actions. If the state attorney or ethics commission find he did not violate specific law(s), or no criminal charges are brought, what happens then? In my mind, there are no more findings needed. What the manager did was wrong, plain and simple. This municipal leader has had three IG investigative reports issued which publicly criticized him in May 2019, February and now June 2020. How can this manager be effective in his duties for Pahokee when he has broken the trust of local, county, state and federal levels of government, to say nothing of the public?

The manager through his actions has placed an inescapable cloud of suspicion over not only himself but indeed the city. The commission will fall prey to the same if decisive, unanimous action is not taken. This manager has proven he deserves swift removal. Pahokee cannot continue to be paralyzed by the detrimental actions of one man. In the end, the individual charged with the day-to-day operations of the city has failed to carry out his duties in a proper manner. Repeated actions turned into a pattern, and that pattern morphed into willful negligence.

Shockingly, what was not said at the special meeting on June 30 by Mr. Williamson were three small but immensely important words, “I. Am. Sorry.” That alone speaks volumes. Vote to terminate. Make it unanimous. Move the City of Pahokee forward.

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