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Soap Opera At City Hall
Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010
The headline was simple enough: "Panel Says Haines City Manager and Police Chief Violated Ethics Laws." But what followed in the local newspaper was a tangled tale worthy of any soap opera.
The Florida Commission on Ethics has announced there is propable cause City Manager Ann Toney-Deal and former Police Chief Morris West were in violation of ethics laws in 2008. The charges stem from a sexual harassment complaint by a woman officer. The city manager is charged with improperly conducting her own investigation, rather than processing it through the appropriate channels in the police department.
The plot grows thicker. The officer accused of the charges resigned after a plea deal with the State Attorney's office. The plea also involved a second sexual harrasment charge related to a consenual affair with a former police officer.
The city manager, if convicted, faces removal from office or a fine of up to $10,000. Former Chief West resigned and gave up his law enforcement credentials in a separate deal with the state attorney, who then agreed to drop three counts of soliciting prostitution from a female parolee.
And to make this story even more incredible, the mayor of Haines is Horace West, brother of the former chief.
I recount this story not because it highlights wrong-doing by public officials. Rather, it serves as an illustration that even in a town of 13,000 the public and press must hold all public officials accountable.
The Grand Jury wrote a highly critical report about the management of the Police Department, yet it was only after the report was released that the state attorney took action.
The city commission voted to retain the city manager on a split vote, and we don't know the outcome of this saga yet. But one of the commissioners who voted to fire Toney-Deal summed it up: "In the category of ethical conduct, we have to be above reproach."
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