In an unprecedented recall election Sept. 15, the citizens of Sebastian voted overwhelmingly to boot three sitting City Council members off the dais; and then elected their replacements.
According to the Indian River County Supervisor of Elections website, the unofficial results show: in landslide individual votes, Damien Gilliams (5,920 yes, 425 no); Charles Mauti (5,780 yes, 537 no); and Pamela Parris 5,935 yes, 397 no) were voted out of office; and former councilman and mayor Bob McPartlan, and newcomers Chris Nunn, 2,792, and Fred Jones, 2,232, were elected to complete their unexpired terms.
There were 6,400 votes cast, reflecting 31.14 percent of the city’s registered voters: 3,608 by mail-in ballot; 2,792 in person on election day.
Grumblings among Sebastian citizens began soon after Gilliams, Mauti and Parris were elected last November. According to Mayor Ed Dodd, “two of (the newcomers)” frequently verbally attacked city staff, and accused them of incompetence.
Council meetings became so contentious that much city business could not be carried out. By March, there was a groundswell of talk about recalling the three.
The situation came to a head the night of April 22 when Gilliams, Mauti and Parris sneaked into the darkened, already closed City Hall Council Chambers and, helmed by Gilliams, held an illegal meeting during which they voted to fire the City Manager and the City Attorney, and to unseat the mayor and replace him with Gilliams, a move the likes of which Sunshine Law experts and long time government officials say they had never heard of or imagined.
The surreptitious meeting was planned after City Manager Paul Carlyle, employing the power given him by Dodd in the face of the pandemic emergency, cancelled a regular Council meeting set for April 22. Strongly and loudly disagreeing with Carlyle, the three hatched their plan.
The meeting ended abruptly when the Sebastian police were called and escorted the trio off the premises, but not before the “vote” had been taken. The following afternoon, Gilliam – still considering himself mayor — held a “press conference”/shouting match outside city hall, trying to read a lengthy written statement over the roar of an angry crowd.
In the weeks that followed, attorneys for both sides became involved, accusations flew and on June 17, according to Veronews.com, “Indian River County deputies arrested Gilliams and Parris, “each on charges of perjury. Gilliams was also charged with three counts of violating Sunshine Laws, while Parris was charged with one count of violating Sunshine Laws.”
Lead by chairman Tracy Cole, a recall committee was formed, and created a well organized campaign to spread the word.
With new faces on the dais, Dodd fervently hopes things will get back to normal and the City Council will be able to work for the people of Sebastian again.
“This is a democracy, To fire charter officers like that . . . . . . . I’m not unhappy with the recall, (although) I wish we could have worked it out. But now there are a lot of happy people in Sebastian. The staff wants to get some stuff done. They would love to establish some objectives. I was leery, reluctant to bring some items to the Council, (because of all the discord and negativity) or to attempt to work with the County on several common issues.”
Among them, he said, the Council’s recent controversial decision, at the request of a local citrus company, Graves Brothers, to annex 1,000-plus acres of citrus land, expected to become a 3,500-home development, a move which immediately generated major opposition from many sides; as well as annexation along 510 – “most people would rather be in Sebastian than in the County.”
Then there’s the negative impact stormwater runoff and septic tanks in several areas of the Sebastian Highlands have on the health of the lagoon.
“Sebastian and the County have to work together, and now I think we can, over the next year.”
Jones, who with his family has called Sebastian home for 30 years, agrees. As he sees it, the goal of the new council “is pretty simple. Work together, work with staff, work with the county. We’ll get back on track. Together we’ll move forward. The city deserves better than what they’ve been getting.”