Sebastian City Council members attempt a “coup”

COMMENTARY

MILT THOMAS

If you are familiar with the Florida Sunshine Law and the basic ground rules on which our democratic form of government is based, you will have to say, “Whuuuu….” After this past Wednesday’s developments in Sebastian City Hall.

Three City Council members – Vice Mayor Charles Mauti, Pamela Parris and Damien Gilliams – planned to removed Mayor Ed Dodd from that position at the Council meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 22 at 6:00 p.m. We will not go through all the issues that led up to this week’s event because the event speaks for itself.

On Tuesday, April 21, Vice Mayor Mauti asked City Manager Paul Carlisle to put “reorganization of the City Council” on Wednesday’s Council agenda. The public was not notified of this change as required by law, in spite of the fact it is an issue of paramount importance to Sebastian residents and voters, many of whom are opposed to the actions of these three City Council members since they were elected last November. In fact, a recall petition has been in the works. Aside from that, the fact that this meeting would have been well attended by citizens on both sides of the issue was a problem given the current social distancing requirements.

So, at 3:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, City Manager Paul Carlisle cancelled the meeting scheduled for three hours later, invoking the City’s local state of emergency ordinance and posting a notice on the city website, city and police Facebook pages and in emails to all council members. He acted within his authority, but for those supporting the actions of these three council members (a voting majority), Carlisle’s action was seen merely as an attempt to prevent the meeting.

Here is where it really gets interesting. Vice Mayor Mauti, along with Council members Parris and Gilliams, decided to go ahead and meet anyway. They proceeded to City Hall, unlocked the building and started the meeting. No other City officials were present, of course. The three amigos then voted to remove Mayor Ed Dodd from office and replace him with one of their own as mayor, Damon Gilliams. They also voted to fire City Manager Carlisle, City Attorney Manny Anon and City Clerk Jeanette Williams for “violating the City Charter.” Meanwhile, Mayor Dodd learned the meeting was in progress and tried to join it but was locked out. He then notified the Sebastian Police Department. They came, stopped the meeting and cleared everyone out.

On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Dodd then organized a meeting in front of City Hall complete with media coverage and issued a statement describing what happened and that it was “an illegal meeting in violation of the Sunshine Law and city charter.” He added, “I remain the Mayor of the City of Sebastian.”

Councilman Gilliams then organized his own meeting right around the corner with a few supporters and it was recorded by WPTV (You can see the piece on their website here).

Also on Thursday, the State Attorney’s office announced an investigation of the three City Council members for violation of the State Sunshine Law because they were meeting without the mayor or any other city official present.

So, the attempted “coup” has left several questions to be answered: Will the three city council members face charges? Does this mean the city will have to hold a special election (remember Vero Beach!)? And probably the most important question of all, when will the next city council meeting be held so we can all watch it?

Look for it in TV Guide under “The Three Stooges Meet Reality.”

 

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