SEBASTIAN — The people have spoken.
About 30 people – in person and through video streaming – voiced disappointment, frustration and embarrassment at the actions of three Sebastian City Council members attempting to oust the mayor, city attorney and city manager. The public commentary was presented during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at city chambers.
“We should never fire people without cause, nor because you don’t like them or what they stand for,” Former Sebastian police Chief Michelle Morris said during the four-hour meeting attended by more than 50 people. “I cannot and will not sit idly by while you push our community to suffering.”
— Nicholas Samuel (@JournalistNickS) May 14, 2020
The widespread anger stemmed from a secret meeting held the evening of April 22 by Vice-Mayor Charles M. Mauti, Councilmember Pamela Parris and Councilmember Damien H. Gilliams. A meeting scheduled to be held earlier that day was cancelled by City Manager Paul Carlisle after more than 1,000 residents opposed it because of coronavirus public health concerns.
“We received about 1,500 emails objecting to the meeting,” Sebastian Mayor Ed Dodd said. But, Gilliams, Mauti and Parris did not agree with Carlisle’s decision and met inside the chambers later that day.
The three officials, acting as a majority on the five-member council, said the situation was an emergency and agreed to fire Carlisle, City Attorney Manny Anon Jr. and have Gilliams replace Dodd as mayor. The actions taken at the “meeting” are now considered void, Dodd said.
The meeting – considered illegal – was in violation of the Sunshine Law and city charter because the public was not notified, Dodd said. State law prohibits elected officials from discussing business outside of a public meeting.
Dodd said the city is suing Mauti, Gilliams and Parris for holding the meeting, where doors were locked to the public. The three councilmembers have countersued, saying the decision to cancel the April 22 meeting was a violation of the city charter.
Dodd said Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom on May 8 ruled his actions were legal and within the parameters of the city charter. Councilmember Jim Hill said that under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency order, city mayors can declare local state of emergencies and also have authority to cancel meetings.
“The city manager is an emergency manager. I can transfer my power to him,” Dodd said. “The city manager was in his right to cancel the meeting.”
The state’s attorney’s office is investigating the actions of Gilliams, Mauti and Parris.
‘You can’t hijack our city’
Several people took the podium, angrily directing comments at Gilliams, saying they were “disappointed beyond belief.”
“You can’t hijack our city,” resident Tracy Cole said, standing before the council as audience members looked on. “We’ll make sure they’ll be held accountable for every single action.”
Resident William Flynn described Gilliams as a “clown show” as Gilliams and others listened. Another public speaker, Christopher Nunn, said Gilliams, Parris and Mauti “have shown they’ll do whatever it takes to get their personal agenda filled, even if that means breaking the law.”
Several audience members clapped after residents ripped into Mauti, Gilliams and Parris. Some asked during the special meeting for the three officials to resign before voters remove them from office.
But, not everyone slammed the officials accused of breaking the law.
“The personal attacks on three city council members are a distraction,” resident Russell Herman said.
City police officers stood guard, monitoring the meeting as residents stood in marked spots – part of social distancing restrictions – spaced out between each other while waiting to speak. Chairs on the inside were spaced out 6-feet apart from each other, along with chairs on the outside, where people watched the meeting on a mounted television screen.
Even with things going smoothly on the public side, tension rose between Gilliams and Dodd on the dais in what appeared to be a struggle for authority. When resident Woody Tally brought up concerns about officials locking the doors at the secret meeting, Gilliams replied “the doors were never locked.”
“I was here. They were locked. That’s an active investigation. It would be better if you don’t speak,” Dodd said.
After public comment, council members discussed whether or not to keep or end the city’s local state of emergency. The regulation was signed by Dodd March 17 in accordance with emergency orders issued by DeSantis and Indian River County in response to the coronavirus.
Gilliams argued he wanted to modify the order, eliminating the option of cancelling city council meetings. But, Dodd replied that changing the order – which allows the city to get federal funding in emergencies – could cancel it altogether.
The council could not reach a decision and will reconvene Monday at 6 p.m.
Three weeks after a trio of city leaders met secretly in an attempt to oust the mayor, city manager and city attorney, the council is holding a public meeting Thursday.
Council members will discuss city matters at 6 p.m. inside the council chambers, 1225 Main Street, Sebastian. This will be the first public meeting in council chambers since mid March.
Leaders will discuss whether to keep or eliminate the city’s local state of emergency declaration. The regulation – signed March 17 – is in accordance with Indian River County as a response to the coronavirus public health crisis.
Also on the agenda is a proposed resolution to end City Attorney Manny Anon Jr.’s contract. Another proposed resolution seeks to appoint an interim city attorney.
Three council members – Vice-Mayor Charles M. Mauti, Councilmember Damien H. Gilliams and Councilmember Pamela Parris – previously held a secret meeting in efforts to remove other city officials from office. The incident – under investigation by the state’s attorney’s office – drew widespread anger and criticism from residents.
Sebastian Mayor Ed Dodd said the city also plans to pursue legal remedies against the three officials. The disorder began April 22 after a council meeting was cancelled because of coronavirus public health concerns.
Dodd said City Manager Paul Carlisle, in agreement with city council, postponed the meeting. Later that evening, Mauti, Parris and Gilliams went inside city hall after it was already closed.
The officials went inside, locked the doors behind them and held an illegal meeting in violation of the Sunshine Law and city charter, Dodd said. State law prohibits elected officials from discussing business outside of a public meeting.
“It is my objective to protect the integrity of the city itself and city government,” Dodd previously said. “The city government is under attack.”
On April 23, Gilliams held a news conference outside city hall where he accused Dodd, Carlisle and Anon of misconduct and called for them to be removed from office. The gathering drew about 50 people, with several in attendance yelling “Lock Him Up” and “Liar, Liar.”
In late April, Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom denied a request by attorney Craig Rappel for dismissal of an injunction filed by Dodd, Carlisle and Anon against Gilliams, Parris and Mauti for sunshine law violations.
Both sides’ attorneys will attempt to reach an agreement.
This story will be updated.