A former member of Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board offered an apology Tuesday for giving a Nazi salute toward a village employee at a meeting earlier this month.
Dr. Marcia Radosevich, who resigned after the incident, said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Wellington Village Council that her behavior was inexcusable.
“I am not asking to be excused,” she said. “My behavior was inexcusable, period.”
Radosevich made the gesture toward Planning & Development Services Director Tim Stillings about three hours into a meeting on Wednesday, March 5. Members were discussing whether Wellington should eliminate its Development Review Committee and put decisions of the committee, currently composed of several staff members, in the hands of an employee.
Radosevich said she made the gesture because she was frustrated after almost three hours of being given multiple answers about which employee would make the decisions.
“When every single board member who was present questioned Mr. Stillings about who that officer would be, he repeatedly insisted that the officer would be no one person, but would be a function assigned to various staff depending on their availability and expertise,” Radosevich explained.
Later in the meeting, Radosevich asked whether Stillings himself would be the one making the decision, and he said he would be.
“After almost three hours of being told three different answers by Mr. Stillings… this truth finally came out,” she said. “I was shocked. I lost my temper. I lost my patience and, momentarily, I lost the power of thought. I reverted to the most potent gesture in my subconscious to express what these staff members were trying to do — to consolidate power to themselves and take the decision-making out of the public arena and into the dark.”
Radosevich said she is not blind to the severity of the gesture. “I’m a third-generation Nazi fighter,” she said. “The horrors of World War II are very real and alive to me. I grew up with the emotional scars caused by the Nazi regime, and I was taught that we must never forget the horrors of totalitarianism.”
She said she agreed to serve on the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board because of her love of American democracy and the frustrations many residents have expressed with village staff. “Some residents feel that some village staff members are making their lives miserable,” Radosevich said.
Several people spoke in support of Radosevich, saying that the incident was a reaction to frustration with the government, and led to “bullying” that was used to push her off the board for political gain.
The board is scheduled to hear an appeal by the Jacobs family next month regarding the Van Kampen Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center Stadium. The item will be heard only before the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board, which could determine that staff was incorrect in determining that the covered arena was an approved structure.
Mayor Bob Margolis felt the two issues were linked.
“This waited a week to surface,” Margolis said during council comments. “It came out and went all over the place. Issues are coming up on the planning and zoning board in a few weeks. I believe this was done for political purposes.”
Some residents said they understood Radosevich’s frustration.
“Marcia was reacting to an overbearing, arrogant and non-responsive government that changes documents without telling people, that loses three or four years of videotapes and minutes to meetings,” said Michael Whitlow, a member of the Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee. “It gets under your skin, and I fully understand why Marcia did what she did.”
Resident Houston Meigs accused the Wellington Chamber of Commerce of “bullying.”
“As it is unacceptable to use a Nazi salute, it is equally unacceptable to use bullying and intimidation tactics indulged in by various organizations such as our chamber,” he said. “Such inflammatory statements are the tactics of tyranny. This bullying is solely meant to silence a differing opinion.”
Alec Domb, representing the Wellington Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee, said the chamber called for Radosevich’s resignation.
“We called for Mrs. Radosevich to resign from her position on the board because of her actions at the meeting, and in particular, her treatment of a public employee,” he said. “We found it to be offensive and reprehensible in its actions. Her treatment of the employees who came before that board was inappropriate and, at the end of the day, what she did to Tim Stillings — who is both a husband and a father — she had no right to do, regardless of her anger or resentment toward village employees.”
Councilman Matt Willhite, who appointed Radosevich to the board, noted that he had already accepted her resignation and appointed Andrew Carduner, president of the Palm Beach Polo Property Owners Association, in her place.
During council comments, Councilwoman Anne Gerwig asked Village Manager Paul Schofield to clear up the issue of removing the Development Review Committee.
Schofield said that because the Development Review Committee is often made up of employees and supervisors, projects cannot be as openly discussed as they could otherwise because of Florida’s Sunshine Law.
“It was not to curtail the public review process or take anything away from a board or committee,” he said. “If the planning director can’t talk to his planner, who he supervises, outside of a public meeting, we can’t conduct business.”
He added, however, that perhaps the changes were not very clear. “We probably did not do a good job of communicating it,” Schofield said. “No one is trying to take the review process out of the public.”
Gerwig said she accepted Radosevich’s apology and thought a lesson could be learned from the incident.
“I know we’ve done that, amongst council, when we’ve gotten emotionally involved and said things we didn’t want to say,” she said. “We do need to treat our professional staff in a proper way.”
Vice Mayor Howard Coates said he was surprised by the incident but was understanding.
“I recognize that you are a human being and that sometimes we get caught up in the emotion of the moment and do dumb things,” he said. “I think that’s what happened. I think your apology and recognition of the inappropriateness of what happened is heartfelt.”
Councilman John Greene said Radosevich is not the first person to be subjected to bullying in Wellington.
“I’m sorry that you had to deal with this,” he said. “I hope you continue to be a strong voice in this community. You brought a lot of issues to light, and we have a lot more work to do. It’s time for us to stand up and fight back.”
Willhite said he was disappointed with the media frenzy surrounding the incident that shed a negative light on Wellington, while ignoring the recent naming of Wellington as one of the top 100 places to retire to. “They only shed light on the negative aspects of this village,” he said.