A very tense 18 minutes

Port St. Joe commissioners anguished over a decision for more than 15 minutes during a special meeting Tuesday before voting unanimously to terminate the contract with attorney Clint McCahill.

For a few minutes it appeared no action would be taken during a meeting called by Mayor Bo Patterson to review McCahill’s contract in the wake of McCahill’s weekend arrest.

McCahill was arrested on a felony burglary and simple assault charges after an incident inside the building where he resides. (see related story)

Commissioners discussed the blot on the city’s image from the news of the incident and whether or not to hold themselves to the language of the city charter concerning commissioners; action is only warranted upon conviction.

The charter language is directed solely at commissioners and is fresh due an incident last year involving a commissioner.

“I would ask that you treat me like any other person and (afford) me due process and the presumption of innocence,” McCahill said at the meeting’s outset.

Due process, Commissioner Eric Langston said, was worthy but the city, and any public figure representing the city, had an image to uphold, a “standard we need to live up to.”

Commissioner David Ashbrook agreed, saying beyond any language in the charter regarding criminal conviction, there were “moral” duties, moral standards and, for him, the troubling behavior by McCahill leading to his arrest.

He suggested three choices, taking no action pending a conviction, suspending McCahill pending the outcome of legal proceedings or terminating his contract immediately.

A resignation from McCahill was clearly the hope of some commissioners, stated by Commissioner Bret Lowry who said he came to the meeting to ask for McCahill to voluntarily step aside.

Langston also said he hoped McCahill would go voluntarily and both appeared hesistant to directly take the step toward termination.

Ashbrook also suggested his fatigue with making such decisions; McCahill was arrested six months, nearly to the day, after former commissioner William Thursbay was arrested on DUI charges immediately following a city workshop.

Thursbay’s ultimate conviction led to a tense, awkward meeting at which commissioners finally approved a legal opinion, coincidentally from newly-installed attorney McCahill, that Thursbay forfeited his elected position.

Langston was appointed to the seat.

“I am tired of sitting up here making these kind of decisions,” Ashbrook said.

But McCahill declined twice the offer to resign, including after consultation with a friend in the hallway outside the meeting room.

“I serve at the pleasure of the board,” he said. “That is your job … I really love this job. I want to keep it.”

After nearly 15 minutes of tense discussion, Patterson said the news of McCahill’s arrest was not what he wanted to hear on Sunday morning.

No one on the board, he continued,wanted to make the decision to terminate his contract with the city, and Patterson added that he believed McCahill had “done a pretty good job” as a new city attorney.

That said, he added that the incident gave “a black eye to the city one more time. I don’t see how it is something we can abide.”

He said it was clear from the words of commissioners that termination of the contract was the desired outcome from the board.

After warning his fellow commissioners he was prepared to pass the gavel to enter the motion, Ashbrook made the motion to terminate McCahill’s contract.

After an extended silence, and Patterson twice calling for a second, Langston seconded the motion and the vote was unanimous.

Commissioners decided to make no decisions on legal counsel on Tuesday beyond contacting those who submitted proposals when long-time attorney Tom Gibson retired late last year.

McCahill won the contract.