When Mayor Walter Stubbs abruptly left a room full of residents and city employees steaming but unheard at a City Commission meeting Tuesday, they said he drew a graphic picture of what plagues the city:
The city is run by a small group of men who protect each other and refuse to listen to residents.
That perception has combined with recent charges of racism, corruption and disregard for public safety to bring this city of 7,300 to a boil.
At the otherwise uneventful commission meeting Tuesday night, about 30 Public Works employees and 40 residents showed up to ask the mayor and commission to take the investigation of Public Works director Ronnie E. Owen out of the hands of City Manager Peter Lombardi.
"It is my belief, and that of most of your Public Works Department, and also many if not most of your citizens, that both Ron Owen and Peter Lombardi will hamper any investigation _ and, indeed, cover up their tracks on your time if you continue to let them," Jeff Moss said, reading remarks he planned to read to the commission. The mayor adjourned the meeting without allowing Moss to finish and denying the opportunity to others.
Stubbs said to the unbelieving crowd: "Until this commission gets a report back from the city manager, it's not going to be discussed." Then he adjourned the meeting and left the room.
Stubbs explained his actions Wednesday. "Personnel matters are in the jurisdiction of the city manager. He has a duty to investigate." He said the city charter would be violated if the commission intervened in such matters.
Asked if the city manager should investigate allegations that implicate the city manager, Stubbs said, "The commission has not been confronted with allegations against the city manager."
Workers have charged that Lombardi and Owen used city equipment and personnel to perform work on personal property and unauthorized work outside the city. One complaint alleges that a photograph shows a city worker removing a tree from Lombardi's yard.
When the charge emerged two weeks ago, Lombardi said he didn't remember the work. Wednesday, he said: "That issue has not been formally addressed by me, and I intend to address it at the meeting of the mayor and board of commissioners."