PAHOKEE – The Pahokee City Commissioners varied in their evaluations of City Manager Chandler Williamson at their Feb. 9 meeting, but most seemed to agree they must resolve the issues in the Office of the Inspector General (IG) report.
The most recent IG report, shared at the June 30, 2020 meeting concluded that Williamson used a city credit card for expenses that were unrelated to city business; for travel expenses that lacked documentation; for excessive travel expenses; and for unallowable expenses. It identified costs of $5,841 that he should reimburse to the city, and questioned costs of $15,941 that lacked official documentation.
Commissioners also agreed the city manager should be more responsive to the concerns of city residents. Some pointed out there are positives as well as negatives to consider.
“You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said Commissioner Benny Everett. He pointed to the grant money obtained, funding to improve the marina, improvements to recreational facilities and improvements to streets.
He said the manager needs to improve relations with the commission and with members of the community.
“The public trust in us and in the city manager is at a low,” he said.
“There have been times when directions were given and were not followed up,” he said. For example, community members requested quarterly town hall meetings and that has not been done.
“I don’t think the respect level is where it should be,” said Everett.
“I think the city manager position requires he be approachable to the citizens,” he said.
Everett said the manager should report to all of the commissioners equally, consistently and fairly.
“No one person makes this commission,” he said. “If one commissioner gets information, I think all should be apprised.
“There are times we have been blindsided or not given information as requested.
“I see positives but I also see negatives that somewhat outshine the positives,” said Everett.
He said the manager should be more approachable to members of the community.
“Ultimately they elect the commission and the commission hires him. He’s not only working for us, he’s working for this community,” said Everett.
Commissioner Regina Bohlen said she did not see enough positive results. Out of 250 total possible points on the evaluation, she said she gave Williamson a 53.
“A city manager should be answerable to the city commission,” she said.
“I find him to be extremely hard to get information from in a timely manner,” she said. “I do not believe the citizens of this city are well served by having him as our city manager.
“In my lifetime I worked with many, many people that I did not like and you go in and do your job,” Bohlen said.
“I do not see it getting any better, I see it getting worse,” she said. “Over this past week, I have sent email, I have left messages. It takes forever for me to get a response.
“I would think as a city manager, you would respond to your bosses. When I ask for something, I have a reason,” she continued.
“For this attitude, which is what I get is attitude. I don’t see the great strides that are talked about,” said Bohlen. “I see a city that should be a lot stronger, a lot more business friendly, a lot better run than it is for the money we pay.
“I think we are way overpaying,” she said.
“We don’t get answers. We don’t get communications. Our directives do not get carried out.” Bohlen said she has asked on numerous occasions if William has paid back the money cited in the IG report and she has yet to see proof this has been done.
Commissioner Clara Murvin said there should be “a little more communication with our citizens as part of respect.”
She sad in the evaluation they should not only look at the person but look at the performance.
“I do think our city is moving forward,” Murvin said. “We have a lot of things happening.
“We could be more of a family-friendly community,” she continued. She said Williamson should be a little more visible in the community.
Mayor Keith Babb noted two of the commissioners have drastically different ratings for the manager with others in the middle.
The majority indicated there have been some positives, Babb said.
He noted the year end report detailed progress with demolition of major eyesores, repaving of streets and rehabilitation of the gymnasium.
“Over past 4-5 years about 60% of our streets have been redone,” he said. “There are many more to go.”
He said some improvements were funded by the county. “A lot of people who are critics would be quick to point out the city didn’t do it, Palm Beach County did,” he said, adding there was city involvement.
Babb said on the negatives, the top of his list is the IG report. “It can’t be overlooked. It can’t be not addressed. That’s a big concern,” he said.
He said the manager’s relationship with the public needs improvement. He said if they had consistent town hall meetings, the public would know more about the work being done. He noted there are still many problems to address. “We’ve got young folks who want to come back to Pahokee who can’t find housing,” he said.
Babb said they need to improve the manager’s relationship with the city employees and improve the morale of city employees.
“We have had some turnover,” he said. “It appears to be dissatisfaction of staff.”
“The IG reports are a major, major factor in how I rated this city manager,” said Bohlen.
“In corporate America, if you had this problem and you had three reports, you would be long gone,” she said. “This city is a corporation and we should run it like a corporation.
“It is very, very disappointing and embarrassing for our city to have three IG reports on our city manager and for us to sit up here and not have done anything about any one of them is even more embarrassing,” she said.
“The city manager is not a good fit for this city,” said Bohlen. “We should terminate him and look for another city manager.
“It’s not an easy thing to say that the person who is basically running the show should go. But I don’t see this repairing itself,” said Bohlen.
“No matter what we talk about to him, it goes in one ear and out the other. He goes right ahead and does what he wants. I think it is time to say enough is enough.
“I would like for us to make this the night where we decide that we have had enough. I am embarrassed for our city,” she said.
“First two IG reports, I’m not too concerned about,” said Everett. “The IG report that is of concern to me is the recent one.
“There are some good things the city manager has done but there are also things we need to address.
“We can’t put the burden of a declining city on one person’s shoulders,” he added. “We’ve got to tell the truth. This city was in a declining state before Mr. Williamson got here.”
Everett said the city should be working more closer with other entities like the chamber of commerce and the housing authority.
“We as a city could do a better job of building relationships and not try to do it on our own,” he said.
“We need to deal with that IG report because that is what we told the community we were going to do. We need to deal with that elephant in the room,’ he said.
Commissioner Felicia Hill who attended the meeting by phone, did not comment. She said she was having trouble hearing the meeting conversation.
Babb said if the city manager is to remain, commissioners need to make sure collectively they share some goals.
Commissioners agreed to discuss goals at the next meeting.
In other business, the City of Pahokee will advertise again for applicants for the position of City Clerk.
At their Feb. 8 meeting, the commissioners agreed to advertise for the position and accept applications. Bohlen said the commissioners should interview the candidates rather than having candidates interviewed by the city manager first.
The commission also agreed to hire a temporary administrative assistant to help with work in the clerk’s office while the city seeks a new clerk.