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City of West Palm Beach news and views

Fair comment or needless insults? West Palm debates free speech at meetings

  • 10:34 am Sunday, June 16th, 2013 by Andrew Abramson

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio is struggling with a basic question: What is free speech at a city commission meeting?

Muoio twice recently allowed the commission to vote to oust resident William McCray from a meeting after he was accused of violating the city’s “civility code” during the public comment portion of a commission meeting.

With an outcry from residents saying the civility code is unconstitutional — a portion that bans residents from addressing commissioners by name, in particular — Muoio assembled a panel of residents to discuss free speech at meetings.

The panel, held at Palm Beach Atlantic University on May 29, included McCray, a former city police officer who won a racial discrimination suit from the city in 2009 but has yet to collect any money. McCray, now a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy, routinely attends commission meetings and criticizes commissioners and the mayor.

“Sometimes’ people’s feelings get hurt,” McCray said at the panel discussion. “They are elected officials and if their skin isn’t tough enough to handle the 1st Amendment, then they shouldn’t take that oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.”

Panelist David Smith, a former city commissioner, said the Ku Klux Klan gets more free speech protection than residents at West Palm commission meetings.

[More]

McCray’s lawsuit against various city officials dismissed; he files new one against city

  • 9:36 pm Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 by Andrew Abramson

A federal judge this week dismissed a lawsuit by West Palm Beach resident William McCray against various city officials alleging that the city violated McCray’s rights by not allowing him to bring a gun into city meetings despite being a police officer. The lawsuit also alleged that the city stymied his free-speech rights.

McCray, a former West Palm Beach police officer and current Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy, has filed a new lawsuit.

Judge Donald Middlebrooks found that “a commission meeting, like the one here, is not a traditional public forum for first amendment purposes; rather it constitutes a limited public forum.” Middlebrooks said there were no specific allegations as to what speech the city allegedly stymied so the “court cannot discern from the complaint if the plaintiff’s speech was indeed protected.”

McCray said Middlebrooks also dismissed the lawsuit because it was filed against individuals within the city including Mayor Jeri Muoio, former Mayor and current U.S. Rep Lois Frankel and various city commissioners.

“The city is going to have to be held responsible, not the individual commissioners,” McCray said.

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West Palm roundtable on public speech coming to PBAU after resident ejected from meetings

  • 2:41 pm Friday, May 24th, 2013 by Andrew Abramson

Public speech has been a hot topic in West Palm Beach for years and it’s more relevant than ever after West Palm resident William McCray was removed from two recent commission meetings and resident Debbie Finney was nearly removed from a meeting for not abiding by the city’s “civility code”. Residents are not allowed to address commissioners or the mayor by name, a stipulation that many believe is unconstitutional.

Palm Beach Atlantic University is hosting a roundtable on “Public Speech in the City of West Palm Beach” Wednesday at 7 p.m. The meeting has been noticed by the city meaning [More]

Moffett calls reelection of James as commission president a ‘power grab’; resident says it’s ‘sickening’

  • 3:24 pm Thursday, April 4th, 2013 by Andrew Abramson

Keith James will serve an unprecedented second consecutive term as commission president after his colleagues voted him in over Sylvia Moffett, who was next in line for the presidency.

Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell made the motion, saying the commission has big items on its plate and “when you have a Harvard Law school grad, it doesn’t get much better than that. From that vantage point I think the cohesiveness that he brings and brought to the job in the last year is something I’d like to see.”

Moffett blasted the decision calling it a power grab and saying it was a slap in the face to the north end residents she represents.

“To make someone chair two years in a row is just not a good idea at all. It’s a power grab,” Moffett said. “I think it’s because I didn’t support (Shanon Materio in the election) and there’s a lot of reasoning in your head about this. I’ve spoken up against a lot of things on the commission and sometimes I’ve supported them. But I’ve always spoken with the best interest of the city at heart.”

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West Palm Beach to pay ex-firefighter $200,000

  • 2:22 pm Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 by Andrew Abramson

Mayor Jeri Muoio announced Wednesday that she will ask the commission to pay ex-firefighter captain Rick Curtis $200,000. Muoio said Curtis has already signed the agreement and “he has dropped his claim to be reinstated as an employee and dropped all lawsuits and pending lawsuits,” Muoio said.

Curtis, who is currently working as a pharmaceutical rep, declined comment before commissioners approves the settlement at Tuesday’s commission meeting. His attorney, Sid Garcia, said Curtis is “generally content with the settlement.”

“Obviously he would love the idea of returning to his job and does feel he was unjustly terminated,” Garcia said. “Given the posture of the case he thought this would be in his best interest.”

Curtis was fired from the department in 2011 following a DUI conviction. He was later awarded a retrial and was exonerated in the second trial and has fought to get his job back. However, city officials said they fired him not just for the DUI conviction but for his behavior in a North Palm Beach jailhouse following the DUI arrest and for past disciplinary issues.

“We feel like this has been a really good situation for us,” Muoio said. “We saw probably another eight years with a lot of high priced lawsuits, a lot more than the $200,000. The concessions that he gave us, we felt we were good.”

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City writes Sheriff Bradshaw to rat out PBSO Deputy McCray

  • 2:46 pm Monday, August 13th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy William McCray has long been the thorn in West Palm Beach’s side. And now, a decade after McCray was fired from the West Palm Beach Police Department, the city appears to be gunning after McCray’s job at PBSO.

On June 21, West Palm Beach City Administrator Ed Mitchell sent a letter to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, informing Bradshaw that McCray attended the court hearing of fired West Palm Beach firefighter Rick Curtis (vs. City of West Palm Beach) in his sheriff’s uniform. Mitchell said in the letter that it was reported to him by various city employees attending the hearing.

Bradshaw was West Palm Beach’s police chief when McCray was fired there. Mitchell still referred to the sheriff as “Chief Ric Bradshaw” in the June 21 letter.

“Deputy McCray was not a witness in the hearing,” Mitchell wrote to Bradshaw. “I am bringing this to your attention because Deputy McCray was observed in his sheriff’s office uniform as opposed to plain clothes.”

On Friday, nearly two months after Mitchell wrote to Bradshaw, PBSO officials sent McCray a letter saying that he is not allowed to wear his PBSO uniform, identify himself as a PBSO deputy or use his PBSO vehicle “if you are conducting personal business related to the city of West Palm Beach or any other political matter, not related to PBSO business.”

McCray did not comment, but McCray’s labor attorney, Sid Garica, blasted Mitchell for writing to Bradshaw. Garcia said McCray went to the courthouse in his uniform after finishing a shift.

“That’s pretty outrageous that Ed Mitchell would, on taxpayer time, take the time to try to interfere with Mr. McCray’s employment,” Garcia said. “The guy was attending a public hearing and he took the time off to attend the hearing, just like anybody else can attend a public hearing.”

[More]

Read McCray’s lawsuit against Frankel, Muoio and other city officials

  • 4:09 pm Thursday, June 28th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy and former West Palm Beach officer William McCray has filed a lawsuit against former Mayor Lois Frankel, Mayor Jeri Muoio and other city officials. Read the full story here.

Attorney Barry Silver said he doesn’t know if he’ll win the suit, but he said he believes McCray has been mistreated.

“I don’t necessarily base my decisions on lawsuits on odds of winning,” Silver said. “I believe he has a strong case of unequal treatment. He has been discriminated against the City of West Palm Beach for a very long time, and they should be held accountable.”

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Civility debate reemerges at West Palm commission meetings after heated public comments

  • 1:56 pm Thursday, June 14th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Public comment at West Palm commission meetings have become heated again, with residents criticizing Mayor Jeri Muoio and commissioners who are forced to listen for up to three minutes per speaker.

In past meetings, both Muoio and former Mayor Lois Frankel publicly battled with William McCray, a PBSO Deputy and former West Palm officer who won a racial discrimination suit against the city but has yet to be paid while the city appeals. But in recent meetings, Muoio has let McCray speak his mind. And now fired utilities worker Lenny Corrigan and resident Sandy Matkivich have also become regular critics, while Muoio and commissioners quietly listen.

On Monday, Commissioner Shanon Materio, in her third meeting since joining the dais, resurrected the civility issue by calling on residents to be more respectful. She singled out Corrigan, who currently has a whistle-blower and wrongful termination lawsuit pending against the city and has been criticizing Muoio for weeks for her decision not to fire three employees in the city’s housing department who were found to have stolen vacation time. Muoio has received information to exonerate the employees, but Corrigan has made numerous public requests to get that information to no avail.

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Outside attorney says city should appoint to replace Moss, hold election next March; residents blast commission

  • 12:26 pm Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Read the outside attorney’s four page opinion

West Palm Beach should appoint a commissioner to replace the late Bill Moss, and that appointment should last until next March, said an opinion penned by Ron Meyer, a Tallahassee-based elections lawyer.

Mayor Jeri Muoio had said the opinion would be available last week, but commissioners did not receive one until Monday. Muoio said the city will discuss Meyer’s opinion next week.

“I am concerned that we are not addressing this with the proper haste that I think it deserves,” said Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell at Monday’s commission meeting. “We had a conversation about making an appointment, but we have not had a conversation about when we fill the vacancy and that is by an election. I think it was an overwhelming desire from this commission and the public that we do that.”

Meyer also served as the attorney for West Palm Beach Residents for Integrity in Government, a political fundraising committee that was set up on behalf of Moss during the March election.

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