Letter to the Editor: Fire the city manager

On June 24, the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General made public a 50-page report titled “Investigative Report 2019-0005; City of Pahokee Inappropriate Purchasing Card Expenditures.” This report laid out the findings that Pahokee’s manager made inappropriate purchases with a city credit card in the amount of $5,840.92 between June 2015 and May 2019, with the recommendation that Mr. Williamson repay the city.

The report also mentioned $15,941.08 of questionable charges that did not include necessary or proper documentation justifying expenses. Palm Beach County’s Inspector General John Carey stated, “The city manager needs to follow the same city policies and procedures that all city employees have to follow.”

This report comes on top of the 22-page May 6, 2019, “Investigative Report 2018-0004 City of Pahokee Holiday Schedule and Bonus Pay.. That report concluded that City Manager Chandler Williamson violated city policy for unauthorized bonuses and days off given to city employees. Those actions were done without the city commission’s approval or vote. The City of Pahokee Holiday Schedule and Bonus Pay investigation began from a complaint by Pahokee Mayor Keith Babb.

According to news reports, this is the third time in less than 18 months the OIG has released an investigative report related to Pahokee and the city manager. The second report was 32 pages dated Feb. 11: “City of Pahokee – Review of Technomarine Construction Inc. Contracts.” In that investigation, the IG inspected city spending practices and contracts. It was found that Williamson violated a state grant agreement when he “improperly authorized the payment of $150,000 to Technomarine.” This payment was rendered for work on the marina that was yet to be completed. The manager approved this contract without first seeking commission authorization. This led to the city losing $125,000. In this case, Williamson concurred with the findings and agreed to recommendations by the inspector.

It is now abundantly clear that City Manager Chandler Williamson was undeserving of a new contract with about an 8% raise of $9,000 which was approved 4-1 with Commissioner Regina Bohlen in dissent. The manager has been publicly criticized by the IG in May 2019, February and now June 2020. The cavalier approach with which this city manager has conducted his duties in these matters can only be described as misfeasance at best or malfeasance at worst. The manager’s responses and explanations to the latest report findings included in it are quite frankly disturbing and tone-deaf to the seriousness of these matters.

This manager was hired at the Feb. 10, 2015, Pahokee City Commission meeting by Mayor Colin Walkes, Commissioner Babb, Commissioner Biggs, and Commissioner Diane Walker. Commissioner Felisia Hill was absent. All the present members voted to approve the selection of candidate Chandler Williamson. At the March 9, 2015 meeting, City Attorney Gary Brandenburg confirmed that Mr. Williamson’s start date was April 6, 2015.

Prior to the selection of the latest city manager, I wrote two letters to the then commission (Walkes, Babb, Biggs, Hill, Walker). In my December 9, 2014, letter, I wrote, “The ideal candidate for the position should have direct experience managing a city, know-how working with all levels of government, familiarity supervising departments and staff, and hands-on experience with economic development.” I further went on to give my thoughts on the 39 manager applicants. I broke them down into three tiers: Strongly Support, Moderately Support, and No Consideration. Seven applicants were under my Strongly Support in order of preference, 10 under Moderately Support with no order of preference, and 22 under No Consideration again with no order of preference. Mr. Williamson was listed under the No Consideration.

In the letter that followed dated Jan. 16, 2015, I gave my perspective on the selection committee’s Top 7 City Manager Applicants. In the letter, I wrote, “I am happy that of the Selection Committee’s Top 7 City Manager Applicants, four of them were listed in my letter to the Pahokee Commission under my Strongly Support. They were Coppola, Akhime, Sparks and Brown. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Goforth were listed under the Moderately Support section. Williamson was listed under the No Consideration tier.” I further stated, “As described in my original letter dated Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, to you, the applicants under Strongly Support are those I feel have the prerequisite experience, knowledge and characteristics needed to be our next manager.”

Later in that same letter, I highlighted information on the selection committee’s top three applicants which included Chandler Williamson. For Williamson, I noted: “two years’ experience as director of Community Relations for City of Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority, three years’ experience as Chief of Staff for Florida State Senate, No direct experience managing a city, currently working to finish his Dr. of Public Administration in Spring 2015.” Unfortunately, neither the city’s YouTube channel nor the city’s website have the original Feb. 3, 2015, manager interview videos. Both of my original letters are posted in the Pahokee Speaks Facebook page where they can be read.

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 City Commission of the City of Pahokee to terminate the city manager with cause. Pahokee must seek a capable and untarnished municipal manager to renew Pahokee’s future.

David J. Ruiz

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