Temperatures ran high —and it wasn’t just because of the broken air conditioners — Thursday at a public hearing at Cutler Bay Town Hall. With just four days remaining in office, Mayor Ed MacDougall was censured in a 4-0 unanimous vote by the Town Council after a resident alleged that he violated the town’s charter.
The complaint, brought by Town Council candidate Ed Wolmers and sponsored by council member and mayoral candidate Peggy Bell, alleged that a letter sent by the mayor to the town’s residents on Sept. 25 violated a town charter rule against officials “intentionally misusing his position to threaten, harass or otherwise attempt to intimidate any other person including but not limited to any citizen, employee or colleague.”
The complaint alleged that the letter appeared to be official, and that it criticized Bell and others. In the letter, MacDougall also endorsed Art Nanni, who is running against Bell for mayor in the Nov. 4 general election.
Wolmers, who is running against incumbent council member Mary Ann Mixon for Council Seat 1, raised the complaint at an Oct. 15 council meeting.
“The mayor’s words were not truthful in that letter,” Wolmers said at Thursday’s hearing. “While he does have a First Amendment right to speak his mind, that First Amendment right does not come without consequence.”
In his complaint, Wolmers alleged that a letter sent by the mayor to the town’s residents on Sept. 25 violated a town charter rule against officials “intentionally misusing his position to threaten, harass or otherwise attempt to intimidate any other person including but not limited to any citizen, employee or colleague.” The rule is stated in the “Citizens’ Bill of Rights.”
“Under the charter the council has the authority to express its disapproval at any other council member’s behavior and that’s what they did,” Town Attorney Mitchell Bierman said.
Numerous residents came to the defense of the mayor at the meeting.
“It’s heartwarming for me,” MacDougall said. “I’m not the nicest guy in the world. I’m gruff. They obviously don’t like my mannerisms because I don’t tolerate a lot of the things I think are inappropriate. I’m by the rules, former cop and former military. I am very straightforward about corruption. I never tolerated it, and they wouldn’t let me speak about the [people] I brought charges against.”
In the letter, MacDougall refers to lobbyist Jose L. Castillo, the campaign manager for Bell and Wolmers. Wolmers wrote that the mayor used “rhetoric created with the sole purpose of accusing Peggy Bell and Ed Wolmers of association with a ‘corrupt’ lobbyist.”
“You have to be respectful to people and you have to tell the truth,” Council Member Sue Loyzelle said. “You shouldn’t put out misinformation. … I think that it’s going to teach the future council that you can’t just say anything you want.”
Mixon motioned to have the decision turned to a “neutral” third party ruling at the hearing, but the motion was not seconded.
“I would really like to ask that we could move this to a third party because I don’t think there are going to be any winners on this council or in this audience,” Mixon said at the meeting. “I can frankly see both sides of this story here. I don’t think that this letter is nice or entirely truthful, but does somebody have the right to speak his or her mind? They do.”
“The people who rely on the town for providing correct information, especially from our mayor, who is our point person who represents our town and council. ... They have an expectation of being provided with the truth, especially when one uses their title to sway a voter in an election, the truth is essential,” Bell said at the meeting.
On Oct. 15, MacDougall apologized and agreed to pay a $50 fine for calling a resident a “crybaby” in an email.
During Thursday’s hearing, Wolmers offered to withdraw his complaint if MacDougall made a full retraction and an apology, but the mayor declined.
“I didn’t, because I wasn’t wrong,” MacDougall said. “I’m not going to apologize. He said if you want to withdraw it, that’s fine. But when he said apologize, I’m not admitting guilt. … I wrote that letter for a reason. I admit that. I wrote the letter and my signature is on it. There is nothing that is dishonest. Not one word is dishonest.”