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Plant City to seek outside review of commissioner's action in police chief investigation

PLANT CITY — The Plant City Commission voted Monday to seek an independent review from the state into whether Commissioner Billy Keel acted improperly during an investigation that led to the police chief's firing.

Keel requested Friday that the commission ask the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the Florida Commission on Ethics to review his actions leading up to former police Chief Steve Singletary's termination. After a two-minute discussion, the board voted 4-0 to send its internal investigative report to both agencies.

Keel made it clear that he supported the motion, but said City Attorney Ken Buchman advised him to abstain.

"It could cost him financially if he'd have to defend himself," Buchman said after the meeting.

Singletary, 45, was fired last month after he was accused of carrying on an extramarital affair while using sick time or on days he reported working. The father of three was discovered meeting with Melissa Hardwick, 35, by Hardwick's husband through the aid of a GPS tracker he attached to her car.

Singletary admitted to the affair but said it did not take place on city time.

Two days after the city suspended Singletary, Hardwick told city investigators that Keel texted a friend of hers, asking the friend to tell Hardwick to keep quiet about the affair.

During the meeting, Plant City Mayor Mary Thomas Mathis said she, not the city manager, would sign the letter forwarding the investigative report to the FDLE, as the city manager reports to commissioners, including Keel.

"They will do the investigation," Mathis said. "How long it will take, I don't know. As soon as they get back to us, I'm sure we'll have a statement out to you."

Keel refused to answer questions before or after Monday's meeting.

On Friday, in a letter to City Manager Greg Horwedel, Keel wrote: "… this whole thing puts a cloud over the city, and puts my fellow commissioners in an untenable position to be pressed to take investigative action of some kind against a fellow commissioner."

Commissioner Michael Sparkman said he supported the idea of further investigation by the state all along, if only so that a higher agency could cast aside any doubt currently hanging over the commission.

"I personally don't feel like he did anything wrong," Sparkman said after the meeting. "Just a young commissioner who got overzealous. But we need to clear the air."

Plant City to seek outside review of commissioner's action in police chief investigation 02/10/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 11:28pm]
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