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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED May 27, 2010
At-large Commissioner Gene Jaleski resigned from the Longboat Key Town Commission Tuesday, May 25, in the wake of an e-mail controversy in which he insulted the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee (PIC) and called former Mayor Ron Johnson “the most ineffective mayor in recent times.”
In his resignation e-mail sent to Mayor George Spoll and Town Manager Bruce St. Denis, Jaleski said he “exposed several good citizens to criticism they did not deserve” and extended his “sincere apologies to those individuals and organizations.”
Jaleski stated in his e-mail that he was unhappy in his capacity on the Town Commission for some time, was not going to seek re-election in March and realized that the reasons he ran for a commission seat were unobtainable. (See Jaleski’s resignation letter below.)
“After the town’s most recent election, I knew my goals were no longer attainable,” said Jaleski in an interview Tuesday with The Longboat Observer, referring to the March election of Commissioners David Brenner and Lynn Larson. “There was an obvious shift in political agenda, nothing right or wrong about it.”
Jaleski also expressed frustration with town government as a whole and said he didn’t think his main goals of modernizing the town’s building and information technology departments, as well as creating an island-wide municipal digital infrastructure, would ever be realized.
“Town government is not the right place for me,” Jaleski said. “I come from a business community, where things happen.”
Jaleski, who said he still plans to be active in town affairs and wouldn’t rule out a town board appointment, said he has also been asked by the state of New York to act as a technology consultant to help improve the educational experience for disadvantaged families.
Although Jaleski lists the above reasons for his resignation, an e-mail he sent to Commissioner Robert Siekmann Saturday, May 22, in which he insulted PIC, may have expedited his decision to resign Tuesday.
In the past, Jaleski has stated he thinks PIC is not representative of the island’s community and that its members are biased. In February 2009, Jaleski declined an invitation by PIC to be interviewed when he was running for commission.
But in the e-mail (see box on page 2A), he went one step further and insulted not only PIC (which he said “may well be an acronym for People with Impaired Cognition”) but called PIC Treasurer Jack McMahon a “fool” and said Johnson “has never been known for his intellect” and that he was “the most ineffective mayor in recent times.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, Jaleski told The Longboat Observer his e-mail “was out of place” and not intended for public viewing.
Johnson believes Jaleski’s e-mail was written in part because of a statement he made at this month’s regular Town Commission workshop. Johnson said some commissioners are afraid to approve the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion application, for fear of being sued.
Johnson said Jaleski’s resignation was the correct decision.
“I think the commission will flow a lot more smoothly as a result,” said Johnson, who said Jaleski’s ideas were undeveloped and sent the commission “in 600 directions.”
Johnson also said Jaleski’s submission into public record of the Key Club’s Islandside project pro-forma statement dated August 2006 from Loeb Partners Realty was “a major mistake.” (See story on page 5A.)
McMahon agreed that Jaleski’s decision was the correct one.
“He pretty much ostracized himself with his comments,” McMahon said.
In a statement released to The Longboat Observer prior to Jaleski’s resignation, PIC Co-Presidents Ann Roth and Gaele Barthold said, “Commissioner Gene Jaleski has done the one thing every representative of a constituency should never do. He has personally maligned and belittled not only some of the private citizens that he represents, but also a volunteer organization that is trying to work within the system.
Commissioner Jaleski, by his thoughtless and tactless e-mail, has become an embarrassment to the commission and to our town. We give a tremendous amount of credit to the citizens of Longboat Key and cannot imagine that they abide this type of behavior from their elected officials.”
Roth said Jaleski clearly violated the commission’s code-of-conduct policy, which is read at the beginning of every commission meeting and states that commissioners “may agree to disagree, but we will be respectful of one another … and avoid personal attacks.”
Upon hearing Tuesday that Jaleski resigned, Roth said, “I think he exposed himself as a poor example of a public official.”
Mayor George Spoll said he was astonished to hear the news, but he respects Jaleski’s decision.
“I was very disappointed to read what Gene said to PIC and his personal attacks on individuals,” said Spoll, who said he met with Jaleski Monday and told him that he wasn’t happy with his comments.
Other commissioners expressed similar concerns.
Said Vice Mayor Jim Brown: “I knew Gene made a mistake when he sent that e-mail, which was uncalled for. I’m just surprised he resigned over it.”
Commissioner Lynn Larson called Jaleski’s resignation disappointing.
“I’m sorry Gene felt the need to resign and couldn’t represent his constituents,” Larson said.
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis was just as surprised.
Said St. Denis: “I had no inkling at all.”
Because Jaleski’s term doesn’t expire until March, the Town Commission must select a replacement that will serve the at-large seat within 30 days, or a special election will be held.
According to the town charter, “Vacancies in the Town Commission shall be filled by the Town Commission, with any person so appointed to be a qualified elector from the district of the vacated commissioner, to serve until the next general municipal election.”
Further complicating matters, Commissioners Larson and David Brenner are expected to be out of town next week and potentially unavailable for a special meeting that could be held to fill the vacancy before the Town Commission resumes the Key Club’s renovation-and-expansion hearing at 9 a.m. Monday, June 7, at Temple Beth Israel.
Unless four of the six commissioners decide to appoint someone next week, the earliest the six commissioners could make the appointment is at their 7 p.m. Monday, June 7 regular meeting at Town Hall.
Key Club General Manager Michael Welly, however, expressed no concern if only the remaining six commissioners resume the hearing June 7.
Said Welly: “I have complete faith in the remaining six commissioners.”
Meanwhile, at least two potential Planning and Zoning Board members have emerged as candidates to fill the suddenly vacant at-large seat.
B.J. Webb confirmed for The Longboat Observer Tuesday that she was already planning to run for a commission seat in March.
“I actually talked to some people about running for Jaleski’s seat last year because I was seriously concerned about his effectiveness as a commissioner,” said Webb, Planning and Zoning Board chairwoman.
And planning board member Phillip Younger, who lost his bid to attain the town’s other at-large seat to Commissioner Hal Lenobel by 94 votes in March, said he would also welcome an appointment.
“I would be honored to serve if the commission so elected to appoint me,” Younger said.
Mayor Spoll, Town Manager:
Through my doing I have exposed several good citizens to criticism they did not deserve. I extend my sincere apologies to those individuals and organizations.
To the commission, I apologize for my error.
Further, those around me have known for some time that I was not happy in my capacity on the Town Commission. I had informed several people that I did not intend to seek re-election. I have come to realize that many of the reasons I ran for the commission have become unobtainable. I feel that I need to resign from the commission, effective today (Tuesday).
It has been a privilege to serve on the commission.
In his own words
Commissioner Gene Jaleski sent the following e-mail to Commissioner Bob Siekmann Saturday, May 22.
In the past PIC has never said anything about beach renourishment if I recall correctly.
“Jack (McMahon) compared the cost of beach renourishment to Buffalo, N.Y., where the cost of snow removal was included in their taxes. While it is a good analogy, it lent some needed levity to the discussion.
I wonder if PIC reads the papers or actually does anything except back developer candidates. Does PIC not know that we are looking at inlet management as a possible means of reducing the spiraling costs of throwing sand on the beach, only to have more than half wash away in less than four years, if we believe the last report by CP&E.
It seems that PIC may well be an acronym for People with Impaired Cognition.
PIC may be the single worst advocate for the upcoming beach bond if fools such as “Jack” try to tell taxpayers that they should just get use (sic) to throwing wads of tax dollars at the Gulf of Mexico.
I have advocated for the past seven years that we try to reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars we waste on endlessly renourishing the beach. One would think that PIC would have been my ally for all that time. Instead not a word from them in all that time about saving tax dollars. Hmmmm.
How does PIC claim that they are in any way representative of the greater community when PIC policy is formulated solely by the board who are screaming advocates for the chamber and the Key Club and I guess, by extension, developers in general?
The question seems to be not that PIC is a watchdog, but rather if PIC is a blind watchdog.
No one can accuse PIC of being timely or on top of the issues.
Sadly at the end of the day PIC has been hijacked by the chamber and is controlled by the likes of Ron Johnson, who has never been known for his intellect. Most people acknowledge that he was the most ineffective mayor in recent times. Do we wonder why PIC is the way it is?
Community Editor Robin Hartill contributed to this story.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]
Commissioner Phillip Younger, who was appointed to fill the remainder of Jaleski's term in June, will serve another two-year term beginning in March after not being challenged for the seat.