OKEECHOBEE — A member of the public requested permission to address the Okeechobee City Council on the seat that will be filled by a new council member when Councilman Wes Abney’s term expires in January. This seat will be filled by Russ Cale, although his name was not mentioned.
Dale Barrett, whose son Brian recently took his own life said, “People tell me they are sorry for our loss. Karen and I did not lose Brian. He was taken from us by emotional stresses he did not have the strength to cope with. He then made a fatal decision. For that, we will eternally be in a state of sorrow.”
Barrett went on to paraphrase two passages from the Bible. The first was from John 8:7, “Let he that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” The second was from Romans 12:19, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay,” says the Lord. Barrett said he finds himself repeating these verses often. They help him to keep his sanity.
He said he did not plan to make a speech about morality, because after many years of following politics, he knew the American citizenship overlooks deviant behavior no matter how extreme.
“I would like to pose some questions to you, the city leaders,” he said.
• What reasonable expectations should the Okeechobee City voters have of their elected officials?
Barrett went on to tell the council that in January they would need to make a decision about filling the vacant seat on the council. Barrett explained he believed they have the option to do a municipal recall and a re-election. He listed the grounds under which an official can be removed from office including malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, permanent inability to perform official duties and conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude.
“I implore you to avoid, in every legal way possible, decisions made as a council, to be tainted by the personal views, actions and aberrant tendencies of one individual. I assure you that the Okeechobee City citizens, my son Brian, the governor of Florida and 600+ others will be watching,” he said.
Both Mayor Dowling Watford and Councilwoman Monica Clark said they have spoken to City Attorney John Fumero about the situation, and legally, he has said there is not much the council can do. Councilwoman Clark said she feels they should encourage the incoming councilman to resign over the situation. “I think in Okeechobee, that we expect the people that serve our community to be upstanding citizens, and I can’t help but remember that this person stood in front of us, at another meeting and talked about how important it was that we stay a family, that we talk about the city being a family all the time, and I don’t know what family member would do this to an existing family. I would encourage every single one of us to encourage Russ to step down.”
Councilman Bob Jarriel said he was in total agreement with her.
City Attorney Fumero said he has not been able to identify any avenue for a recall under state law so far.
Barrett said there were many friends of Brian in the room. “Tell us what to do, and we will do it.” He said they were willing to get signatures if that was what it would take. He was concerned not just for his own sake if the new councilman took the seat in January, but expressed concern for the rest of the council. “Will you trust his decisions?” He asked. “You have to be satisfied when you are sitting next to that individual in the vacant seat. Will you be satisfied he is telling the truth? That things are correct in what he does?”
“We are talking about a son that is no longer with me. I will forever be at this meeting and in that chair. If he is in that vacant seat, I will be here. If only to unnerve him. I will be here.”
“It’s easy to gloss over the fact of what’s happened here. I’m not glossing over it, because I’m the boy’s father. His mother and I gave 49 years of love to that boy, and now he is gone, because of the actions of another individual, who is going to sit in that chair. I’m going to be sitting in that one. You might as well put my name on that chair.”
Russ Cale declined to comment.