A strange week
Three Port St. Joe commissioners were prepared to vote last week during a special meeting to terminate city manager Jim Anderson.
But during the special meeting, which took place in front of a packed meeting room, Anderson invoked a clause in the city charter that required commissioners to submit written allegations and provide a public forum for Anderson to defend himself.
At the end of meeting, which lasted just over an hour, commissioners chose to leave Anderson in place pending the next step in the process; when those steps would, or even, occur was not clear after adjournment.
Some key takeaways from the process.
City charter writers had it right.
Whoever composed Section 34 of the city charter should be toasted. Somewhere, somebody envisioned capricious, mysteriously-motivated personnel actions by at least three commissioners.
And that, by the end of 62 minutes of discussion last week, seemed a pretty fair conclusion regarding last week’s actions, which began with Mayor Bo Patterson asking for Anderson’s resignation midweek.
When Anderson declined, a special meeting, for a weekday morning, was scheduled instead of waiting for the next regular meeting.
Patterson and Commissioners Brett Lowry and Eric Langston stated their intent to vote to terminate Anderson.
That was in stark contrast to the difficulty Patterson and Lowry had submitting a motion or voting in favor of ousting a commissioner who had attended a meeting impaired and, after his DUI conviction, forfeited his seat based on charter language.
And all three board members were hesitant to make a motion or vote in favor of terminating the contract of the city attorney after his arrest on burglary and battery charges.
Both times phrases such as “due process” were repeatedly invoked.
Not so last week.
If there are allegations to be made, they have yet to be heard; despite public prodding for details the case against Anderson sounded less than overwhelming.
Patterson offered only that he had spent the past seven months in “fear for my life” after a one-on-meeting over a personnel kerfuffle led, during which allegedly, Anderson pointed a finger and said something that included “fire and fury.”
Lowry declined several times to provide any justification for his vote beyond “a loss of confidence.”
Langston repeatedly said he was joining Patterson and Lowry in support of his North Port St. Joe community, pointing to Anderson as the obstacle to work and funding opportunities spearheaded by the North Port St. Joe Project Area Committee.
However, as it was finally noted by a former commissioner, Anderson works for the five commissioners and if the PAC’s work was not moving forward, the responsibility sat squarely on the board, of which Langston is now a member.
Citizens were heard.
As one resident noted, it was satisfying to see the public turnout and he encouraged similar engagement every other Tuesday when the Commission met in regular session.
Indeed, outside of meetings that in some fashion pertained to alcohol and downtown, last Friday’s special gathering, despite its morning starting time, brought more people to the meeting room than had been seen in years.
They were at times a raucuous group, and a couple of times veered over the line of basic manners, but those occurred primarily when the audience felt a need to call, well, hogwash, on some statements from, as they pointed out, those who “work for them.”
Patterson arriving late to the meeting held at his behest did not start things off well and few seemed willing to accept, or believe, his allegation regarding a physical threat from Anderson.
Lowry’s unwillingness to discuss his rationale for wishing to terminate Anderson also did not go over fondly.
The loudest uproar, part guffaw, greeted Patterson’s assertion that he would clear the room.
The meeting had the feel of citizens, voters, who had reached a limit on what they would remain silent about.
In that vein, commissioners’ eyes ought to be open.
If there was an overriding theme to last week’s meeting it was that commissioners have a ways to go on, well, their poll numbers, voter satisfaction.
Almost universally, Anderson was held in higher regard and with a higher level of respect than commissioners.
It should be sobering for an elected officials to hear that folks believe the city manager the only one at city hall who stands for something, as one resident said.
There were statements about coming elections, about knowing some commissioners all their lives and being “disappointed” in their actions.
Several times it was suggested the drug and sobriety tests would not be out of line.
At times it was rough, but it was also a showcase that the actions of some commissioners, in the past few months leading to now, have not been seen through a spectrum of positivity by a fair segment of the population.
And that population, reflected in the audience, was decidedly mixed in demographics: business owners and hourly workers, retired folks and young, recent additions to the community and some of the most respected folks living here.
Lacking allegations, questions.
The most unsettling aspect of last week’s meeting, and this sudden determination to jettison the city manager, was the vacuum left by the lack of justification.
With commissioners unable to explain their vote in a way that found traction with the public, the voters, their constituents, were left to ponder a host of scenarios regarding why.
One business owner, likening commissioners to young boys with a baseball, offered that Anderson must have stepped on somebody’s toes and requested public record access to commissioners’ cell phone histories.
Another offered that the runoff election was a factor and there were plenty of rumors regarding ground zero for the move to terminate Anderson.
The county? Specific special interests?
Given the mood of citizens in that room last week, and comments made afterward, there is a gaping credibility gap at least three commissioners will have to work to overcome.