SEBASTIAN — The final round in the brouhaha surrounding a rowdy and embarrassing November Planning and Zoning meeting was played out April 8 as the City Council voted 3-2 not to relieve embattled P&Z chairman Ed Dodd of his gavel. The vote came only after some intense dialogue centering not only on Dodd’s handling of the November meeting, but also on his flat refusal to comply with Council’s written request that he send a letter of apology to one of the individuals involved.
At the Nov. 6 P&Z meeting, residents of Collier Creek filled Council Chambers to protest the luxury RV park proposed by local developer Dr. Henry Fischer, Miami real estate CEO Tarek Kirschen, Agent Todd Howder and local broker John King.
The project was to be built in Chesser’s Gap, next to Collier Creek off of County Road 512. A flyer had been circulated within the development warning of the perceived negative impact of the proposed project and urging residents to attend the meeting.
The protesters cheered their own speakers, made snide remarks during developers’ presentations, and even booed Fischer when he spoke.
Before the vote, Dodd noted that City Code didn’t address RV Resorts specifically, and stated his concern with the Code definition of RV’s as temporary dwellings.
“It’s not consistent with the code,” he said at the time.
The zoning board voted 6-1 to recommend that City Council deny the developers’ special use permit request. As the development team left, Fischer approached Dodd at the dais and mentioned that the developers might now decide to put low-income housing on the property, one of their permitted options.
Like many City meetings, P&Z meetings are broadcast live, and Dodd, unaware that his mic was still hot, was recorded calling Fischer an “a—hole.”
In March, at Councilman Jim Hill’s behest, Council discussed the troublesome issue and directed City Manager Joe Griffin to send a request to Dodd asking that he send a letter of apology to Fischer.
Griffin’s letter, in part, stated: “Council requests that you write Dr. Fischer a letter of apology for the statement aimed at him. Also, it is Council’s understanding that you recuse yourself when the subject site plan for Dr. Fischer’s project comes before the P&Z.”
Griffin also requested a copy of Dodd’s letter to Fischer.
But that didn’t happen. Instead Dodd wrote back, agreeing that his use of profanity “was not appropriate.” Regarding the request for a letter of apology to Fischer, Dodd wrote, “I feel that my apology (at the Nov. 30 P&Z meeting) closed the issue. I will not write Dr. Fischer directly. I feel that doing so would vindicate his bullying attitude when he approached me during the recess.”
At the April 8 meeting, Council members seemed taken aback by Dodd’s letter. Dodd came forward and reiterated what he had written, emphasizing his belief that, in a public hearing, the people should be allowed to express their opinions whether they agreed or disagreed with the action at hand.
He said he had given the issue much thought and concluded there were three possible outcomes: He could resign, “the easy way. But I couldn’t ignore my 10 years of service to the city on various boards.” Or he could write the letter as requested. “I am truly sorry, but that is not in my nature.” Or the Council could choose to “take me out.”
Councilwoman Andrea Coy told Dodd, “this very stressful situation is not reflective of your 10 years of service or your ability to run a meeting but, as a chairman, you have the right to clarify or comment” as when the P&Z meeting got caught up in the word pedophile, which virtually became the protesters’ theme. “It was blatantly false. Because it’s repeated over and over and over doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Dodd, who had left the lectern, returned to retort, “I’m not willing to compromise my ethics” just because “the five of you ask me to.”
Coy, visible startled, replied, “I’m sorry to hear you say that. There’s nothing more to say then.”
Hill , too, appeared angry. “All due respect – he just stood there and . . . . .There were many egregious mistakes made (at the P&Z meeting). Now, this Council made a directive and he has thumbed his nose at this body. In my mind, that’s just as egregious. The meeting was bad, but this is worse. He let pride get in the way.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” said Coy. “There’s nothing greater than our honor and integrity and we can’t have personal issues up here. We have no choice.”
She promptly made a motion to remove Dodd from his position and Hill quickly seconded it.
The other Council members, silent so far, did not agree that they “had no choice.”
Mayor Richard Gillmor, Vice-Mayor Jerome Adams, and Councilman Bob McPartlan were of the opinion that Dodd’s record of service outweighed an unfortunate remark made in the heat of the moment.
McPartlan also noted that the request for a letter was simply that, a request, not a directive.
Gillmor said the Council was making a mountain out of a molehill and “I don‘t want to lose a good volunteer.”
The vote split the Council 3-2, and Dodd held on to his chair.
As to the Chessers Gap project, the City Council in January rejected the P&Z recommendation and ultimately gave the project a green light. Developers expect to bring it back to Council later in the year to continue its journey through the process.