The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council’s reconsideration of an earlier motion to remove Keith Harris from the Roadway, Equestrian Trails & Greenway Advisory Committee (RETGAC) ended in a 2-2 stalemate Tuesday, which left Harris on the board.
Councilman Ryan Liang, who appointed Harris to the board originally and made the original motion to remove Harris late last year, was not at the meeting.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said a complaint had been raised regarding the process that was used to remove Harris, which led to the reconsideration of the action.
Harris’ original removal was at the behest of Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel, who said he had watched the video of a recent RETGAC meeting where Harris had presided as chair and thought he had not conducted the meeting appropriately.
At the meeting Tuesday, Councilman Jim Rockett said he had also watched the RETGAC video and agreed that Harris was abusive to members.
Councilman Tom Goltzené, who is the council’s RETGAC liaison, noted that he was the only council member who had actually witnessed what happened and also pointed out that Liang was not at the meeting.
“I’m not an attorney, but my reading of a very old book tells me that you need an accuser,” Goltzené said. “The accuser isn’t here. No one on this council was there but me. It’s my testimony that he did nothing that would warrant him being removed that anyone else in this room who has been to a meeting would have not done. This whole acrimony is foolishness.”
Mayor Dave Browning pointed out that each of the committee members is appointed by a council member with affirmation by a majority of the council, but Cirullo said their removal is a decision of a majority of the council.
Rockett made a motion to reaffirm Harris’ removal from RETGAC, which was seconded by Jarriel.
“I was not at the meeting, but I did go through the tape,” Rockett said. “To me, the actions of the chairman were unbecoming of anybody the town council would want to serve as a representative of the town council. I’ll be the accuser because I saw it.”
Goltzené said all Harris did was use the gavel when the meeting got out of control. “This is political suicide on these guys’ part,” Goltzené said. “It’s a political hatchet job on Mr. Harris.”
Harris told the Town-Crier after the meeting he has decided to run for council against Liang, whose Seat 3 is up for re-election in March, along with Jarriel’s Seat 1.
Goltzené said he thought that the LGWCD has been taking advantage of the town and the discussion has been repressed to this point. Harris has been strident in his accusations against the LGWCD. “This is payback for talking,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of talking going on in the next few months.”
Goltzené said since he has been liaison, the council has ignored RETGAC’s recommendations, and the LGWCD has been uncooperative. Goltzené also pointed out that the previous committee chair, as well as several committee members, had quit because it became too tedious.
“They only showed up for one or two meetings and nothing was getting done, so they quit,” he said. “Why Keith [Harris] wants it, I couldn’t tell you. Create whatever cushion you need to throw Mr. Harris off the committee. I expect Keith is going to throw somebody off and be sitting up here pretty soon, because there’s too many people sitting in this room who know the truth.”
Attorney Jeff Kurtz, representing Harris, said that while Rockett asserted that Harris’ actions were embarrassing, he had reviewed the video and did not find that.
Kurtz said he also agreed with Goltzené’s contention that there needs to be an accuser. “The accused needs to know what he has been charged with,” he said.
Kurtz also passed out a copy of a state statute regarding the removal of municipal board members, stating that the council must adopt a resolution specifying facts sufficient to advise the board member why he is being removed. “Give the accused the right to know what he has been charged with,” Kurtz said. “This isn’t about Keith Harris; it’s an opportunity to do things correctly.”
Kurtz said if Harris’ actions were embarrassing, it needs to be explained why. “You haven’t articulated the things that were offensive,” he said. “I couldn’t see anything that he did wrong. He used the gavel. That’s not embarrassing behavior.”
Browning called Rockett’s motion to remove Harris, and the vote was a 2-2 deadlock with Goltzené and Browning opposed.
In related business, the council approved a resolution amending the duties and procedures of RETGAC, its members and the council liaison.
Underwood said that the resolution, which was drafted by the town attorney at the direction of the council in November, amends the duties of RETGAC to more specifically follow the council’s direction, rather than embark on issues of its own choosing.
“You would give them a specific task,” Underwood said. “Heretofore, it has been pretty much open. The council liaison would serve as a conduit, providing information and taking information back to you. The committee shall limit its business to only the items you recommend.”
Underwood added that the manager would attend the meetings and try to accommodate the needs of the committee and organize the agenda.
Goltzené made a motion to approve the resolution with changes, including that the town manager be able to add agenda items, rather than only the council.
Rockett said he would rather leave agenda items to council direction only. “I think the intent is we want to give the committees things we want them to look at,” Rockett said.
Neither Rockett nor Jarriel would second Goltzené’s motion, and Browning passed the gavel to make a second.
During public comment, Harris said he would accept the resolution.
“My understanding is I am still chair of the Roadway, Equestrian Trails & Greenway Advisory Committee, however short-lived that may be,” Harris said. “The existing language… allowed the committee to conduct research independent of council direction and control, to provide judicious advice from a citizen’s perspective. It was encouraged. The language of the new resolution is different. All activity of the committee is under the direction and control of council. I respectfully submit to you, I will accept your decision, and I will conduct myself and the committee accordingly.”
Goltzené’s motion carried 4-0.