By Agrippina Fadel
No one was censured at the city commission tonight, but the atmosphere on the dais was far from peaceful and friendly.
After a heated exchange on Jan. 26, commissioners Elvin Villalobos and Marlon Bolton requested a censure discussion. However, both agreed, begrudgingly, to put the matter aside at the meeting.
Villalobos added two items to the Feb. 9 meeting, one specifically requesting Bolton’s censure and the other inviting a discussion of a more aggressive approach to punishing commissioners who behave disrespectfully.
Bolton’s agenda item asked the commission to take action and censure Villalobos for “making obscene and racial remarks,” although there wasn’t any evidence.
The commission chamber had an unusual number of residents requesting to speak during the public comments part of the meeting. With minor exceptions, they all talked about the altercation between the commissioners and asked the city leaders to behave according to their position.
Some residents wore red t-shirts with the words “I love Bolton” on them, and many spoke highly of the commissioner, with one resident going as far as thanking him for one of the now-famous Turkey gift cards she had received.
While rounding up supporters wasn’t part of the agenda item, Bolton said he had 24 hours to “invite 50 people” to the commission meeting to support him, adding the number could have been 200 if he had “more time.”
Addressing the censure of commission members in general, city attorney John Herin explained that while the city code provides information about such action, there is no policy or a procedure for it. He said if an offense requiring a censure happens during a regular commission meeting, a commissioner’s motion to reprimand should be made then and there.
“If a censurable act takes place outside of the meeting, then the commission would have to come to a consensus to move forward with a censure, schedule a hearing and ask involved parties for their testimonies,” said Herin, asking the commission how they would like to proceed.
Mayor Michelle Gomez had intervened and pleaded with Villalobos and Bolton to put their differences aside, offering instead to strengthen the city policies about disrespectful behavior on the dais.
“In light of everything we heard from the residents tonight, it is clear that this behavior cannot continue. Can we please remove the censure from the agenda and move forward?” she asked the commissioners.
Villalobos said he would be amenable to the mayor’s request if Bolton does the same. “I just want to make it clear; family should be off-limits in arguments,” he said, referring to Bolton’s comments about his wife and marital life.
Bolton was far from amenable, saying Villalobos had made racist comments to him numerous times.
In the Jan. 26 exchange, Villalobos allegedly said, “bye baldy.” Bolton alleges it had a racial undertone, although he did not say what it was.
“I spoke to him about it privately and told him the things that he says about people who look like me are not appropriate. He is relentless in his pursuit to tarnish my reputation,” said Bolton, adding that he is not the bully Villalobos paints him to be.
To dig even further at Villalobos, Bolton said, “I did not call commissioner’s wife fat; I just repeated what he himself had said about her,” regarding the argument the two had.
Bolton said he feels strongly about his censure item but would be open to putting it aside if Villalobos “owns up to the pain” he allegedly put Bolton through.
Commissioner Debra Placko told the two to “hash it out” and take the matter with the HR department, should they have an argument again. Although Placko was a witness to the exchange between the two commissioners, she didn’t come to Villalobos’ defense when Bolton accused him of making a racist statement.
“I know you don’t get along – you don’t have to. But it is disheartening to listen to the residents’ reaction. I hate airing our dirty laundry in public,” she added.
Vice Mayor Mike Gelin said he had experienced how being in the public eye can affect one’s family when he made national news a few years ago, calling out a Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy who arrested him at a recognition meeting.
“When you are a public official, your family is exposed as well. If you don’t like it, don’t be a public official,” he added, seemingly responding to Villalobos’ remark about the family being “off-limits.”
After a discussion, commission members decided the city does not need more stringent rules and policies regulating behavior on the dais. Instead, they encouraged each other to “behave like adults, do the job well, and hold each other accountable.”
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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