Mea culpa: South Miami commissioner votes to censure himself

Gasps and applause flowed from a large crowd when South Miami Commissioner Bob Welsh voted to pass a resolution for his own censure at City Hall on Tuesday night.

The move, defined as a formal, public reprimand for an infraction or violation, follows weeks of debate since Welsh was accused of racism after his poster, titled “40 acres & a pool!” featuring a floating mule in a pool, went viral.

“I tried to do a poster to celebrate the grand opening of the Murray Park pool that had soul,” Welsh said. “I apologize for the hurt that I caused. My intention was to have everybody cheer that we have a swimming pool. I used the 40 acres analogy because the swimming pool had been promised to us for 45 years. Finally we have done it.”

“I will tell people I apologize until I am blue in the face.”

Welsh said he printed 10 copies of the poster, giving five to friends to ‘vet’ its appropriateness. When one of the friends, Rodney Williams, objected, Welsh said, he promised not to distribute it. But Welsh said the poster went viral after he left it at Williams’ mother’s house.

“I gave five flyers out,” Welsh said. “That’s not circulation. That’s on a test case. I was vetting it. All I was looking for was one person in the whole city to say they didn’t like it. I found it.”

Welsh, known as “Bicycle Bob” for his practice of pedaling around town handing out flyers on city issues, said he distributed 700 posters apologizing for the incident several weeks ago.

Commissioner Valerie Newman and Vice Mayor Josh Liebman proposed the resolution to censure Welsh. It passed by a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Phil Stoddard and commissioner Walter Harris in favor against the censure.

“The reason you don’t see the African-American or Cuban community here at the podium is that they don’t feel comfortable here,” Liebman said Tuesday. “They are tired of it. Go ask in the African American community. They are tired of coming to the commission and being discriminated against.”

The pool has been long-sought in South Miami’s historically black neighborhood, and has been discussed on and off since the 1970s.

Newman voted against building the pool; Liebman joined the other three council members in voting for it on the condition that operating expenses be limited to $50,000 or about 10 weeks of operation.

Before his resolution of censure, Welsh had Liebman and Newman served with two separate lawsuits for slander, regarding their claims that Welsh also created fliers titled “Three Monkeys” and “Queen of Spades.” The latter flyer depicted former Mayor Anna Price as the Queen of Spades.

“No way in hell did I ever print, create, or distribute the ‘Three Monkeys’ flyer,” Welsh said. “I didn’t even know about the ‘Queen of Spades’ flyer until the last commission meeting. Let Commissioner Newman show her evidence to the judge.”

Stoddard, who called the move a “political charade,” was surprised by Welsh’s vote.

“I would call it leaning into the curve,” Stoddard said after the meeting. “I would say he emphasized his own apology by personally accepting a vote of censure. By saying yes, he recognizes that this upset people and will try to do better in the future.”

A number of African Americans, from inside and outside of South Miami, came in support and opposition of Welsh.

“The people that came out in favor of censure, were the people that voted against Bob in the previous election, every last one of them,” Stoddard said. “There were a number of people who spoke out in support of Bob. It wasn’t only people from Coconut Grove. People who have not been involved politically very much and other people in the community have said that this was all political nonsense. It heats up before an election.”

The next City Commission meeting is on Dec. 17. The city of South Miami election is set for Feb. 11.

“I sponsored this resolution because I have taken offense personally as a Cuban American,” Newman said before the vote. “I have seen him do things like this flyer before. This is not the first time that commissioner Welsh has crossed the line.”

Welsh said he plans on keeping the suits against Liebman and Newman. Liebman informed Tuesday’s attendees that they would foot the bill with their tax dollars.

“In reference to Bob’s lawsuit that he filed, I assume commissioner Newman, as well as I, will defend ourselves with our new insurance policy,” Liebman said. “There is a $100,000 deductible. That’s going to come out of all the taxpayers’ pockets, per lawsuit.”