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Clowns To The Left, Jokers To The Right, Here We Are: Just Plain Stuck.

The town of Satellite Beach, Florida has about 10,000 residents and sits right on the Atlantic Ocean. Located just south of Patrick Air Force Base and the Kennedy Space Center, it is, for the most part, a nice town until you start to delve into the politics of the city a bit. We have written about the City Council several times in the past, and those writings should give readers a feeling of what can happen when a down is divided politically.

None of the previous examples prepared us for the recent spout of lunacy.

First, let us introduce you to the City Council and the “players” in this incident:

Starting on the left (A) is Fire Chief Don Hughes.

Behind Chief Hughes and barely visible (B), is Chief of police Jeff Pearson.

Sitting on the dais, left to right is (C) City Manager Mike Crotty, (D) City Attorney Jim Beadle, (E) Councilman Lloyd French, (F) Councilman Greg Billman, (G) Mayor Joseph Ferrante, (H) Vice Mayor Scott Rhodes and finally, (I) Councilwoman Sheryl Denan.

Not pictured is citizen volunteer Bill Speigelhalter whose involvement in this issue wil be made clear not by the City Council, but by Speigelhalter himself.

In a City Council meeting of May 16, 2012, and as seen in a clip below, Vice Mayor Rhodes asks about the use of a “Citizen on Patrol” vehicle. (Please, no snickers concerning “Citizens on Patrol.”) He says he was forwarded a picture by a city resident showing the COP car being used to pick something up from a local WalMart and the person driving appeared not to have been on official business.

During the discussion, and you can listen for yourself, Chief of Police Jeff Pearson and Councilman Lloyd French say they have seen the photo too.

As audience members (also known as citizens of Satellite Beach) listened, several things were learned. First, the COP car is often used by the city to send city volunteers on errands that pertain to city business. Doing this is cheaper than dispatching a city paid employee using a city car to make the supply run. Secondly, when the car is being used by a volunteer, the volunteer should be in some sort of city “uniform” which designates them as a city volunteer.

As the discussion wound down, what was clear was making trips in the COP car without proper attire reflects badly on a city that is hurting for money and that all volunteers would be reminded of the uniform policy. No blame assessed – no recriminations – just “this may be a problem, let’s fix it and move on.”

End of story, right?

Not so fast.

On Memorial Day, we received an email calling for the resignation of Vice Mayor Rhodes or for the discipline, resignation and reimbursement of money used in the trip by the volunteer.

Here is the text of the email:

After viewing this video I sent an email to the City Manager, the Mayor and Council requesting Councilman Rhodes produce the photo he spoke of or apologize for this fabrication. COP vehicles and the volunteers are routinely used to run errands for the SBPD in order to avoid the use of paid staff or officers, volunteers are always to be in uniform and there are records of when a COP vehicles are outside of the city on business. In my view this is nothing more than one of those “gotcha” attempts. If the photo proves his allegations to be true the offending volunteer should be disciplined or resign and compensate the city for the personal use of a COP vehicle. On the other hand if Councilman Rhodes is unable or unwilling to produce the photo (un-doctored) he should apologize and resign. I find it outrageous that a sitting Councilman would use his elected position at a City Council meeting to attack a citizen volunteer. I just want the truth to be told.

The email claims to “want the truth to be told.”

Hogwash.

The truth is that Councilman Rhodes had a duty to the citizen that gave him the photo to find out what happened. Because of Florida’s Sunshine laws, that inquiry could not take place anywhere but out in the open. In that the Police Chief and another councilman had seen the photo as well, it would have been a dereliction of Rhodes’ sworn duty not to make an inquiry.

As to the volunteer, the “truth” is a little different and slightly obscure. At the end of the video above, the individual alleges he was the person who went to WalMart the day in question. He says he was in uniform. He also says he did not get “paint” which the picture seen by Councilmen Rhodes and French as well as Police Chief Pearson shows.

But there are details missing from Speigelhalter’s account. First, he does not say what was purchased. He may have been carrying something that appears to have been paint, but was not. There are many things sold by WalMart that may appear to be “paint.” In actuality, the precise item being carried doesn’t matter. Secondly, one has to wonder how Speigelhalter knows the day of the incident. There are a couple of scenarios, but in reality, none of that matters either.

What matters is that a Councilman did his job. Volunteer Speigelhalter, who was the city’s “Volunteer of the Year” has earned through his service the benefit of the doubt of doing his job.

In the end, we should have the City Council responding to citizen’s inquiries, and just as importantly, the service of volunteers should be appreciated.

Obviously people can’t live with that.

Instead of simply noting that the people in charge of the COP car were aware of the incident and that the regulations for the use of the car would be re-emphasized to those who drive the car and then moving on, small minded people have to try and make a big deal out of this.

Instead of the city residents coming together and saying “we understand and are trying to make sure this won’t happen again,” we have people calling for resignations and all sorts of repercussions.

Contrary to what the email suggests, this isn’t about the “truth.” This is about vendettas and pettiness. This is about deliberately and continually trying to rip a town apart.

The bottom line is that if citizens cannot agree on small issues like this – if residents cannot say this is a small incident – there is no way to gain consensus on larger issues. There is no way to have understanding on any issue. For a city with a debt of anywhere between $11 million and $16 million (depending on the figures used) there better be a sense of coming together instead of people constantly trying to tear things apart.

Satellite Beach is a small town that should never let something like this add to a divisive line in the sand. However little towns as well as big cities all have people that are more willing to demonstrate pettiness rather than understand the big picture.

And that is the truth of which we can all take note.

P.S. – If the writer of the email really wants volunteer Speigelhalter to be accountable for the costs of the trip if it was not legitimate, we here at Raised on Hoecakes will be happy to pay the bill. Looking at the map of the area, the distances involved, as well as the car being used, we figure this whole mess and acrimony is over what shouldn’t cost more than $5.00. Five stinkin’ dollars.

Send us an invoice and we’ll double that and give the city ten bucks – cash money. Hopefully that ten spot will shut people up, but we doubt it.



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  2. […] little back story is needed. As we reported on May 31, 2012, during a City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Scott Rhodes raised a question about a picture that had […]

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