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Sarasota Friday, Jul. 2, 2021 2 months ago

Commission to discuss investigating Brody’s conduct

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Following an outburst at City Hall in March, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch is asking her colleagues to consider a formal inquiry into Mayor Hagen Brody’s behavior.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

At the request of City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, the board is scheduled to discuss the possibility of investigating the conduct of Mayor Hagen Brody in the wake of a reported angry outburst at City Hall in March.

Three staff members filed reports to the city's Human Resources department about Brody's behavior on March 29. The reports said Brody was upset with a video posted to the city’s Facebook page about a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. All three reports characterized Brody as being notably upset in the workplace for several hours, with one accusing the mayor of creating a toxic environment at City Hall.

Brody acknowledged his involvement in an argument with City Manager Marlon Brown on March 29, though he downplayed the severity and significance of the dispute. Subsequent human resources reports from Commissioner Erik Arroyo and Planning Board member Dan Clermont, filed after the first statements became public, said they only heard elevated voices in the office for eight to 12 seconds.

The commission broached the subject of Brody’s behavior at a meeting in May. At the time, Ahearn-Koch raised the prospect of an investigation, stating her belief officials had an obligation to thoroughly pursue allegations of improper conduct. Ahearn-Koch noted there was no clear precedent for how officials could respond to the reports about Brody, but she said she felt the city should take some action.

“As challenging and as difficult as it is to address these kinds of things, I think we do need to address it,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Finding support for an investigation from a majority of the commission may prove difficult. Commissioner Liz Alpert was also critical of Brody’s behavior, but she stated she would not pursue punitive action if the mayor acknowledged his actions were inappropriate and issued a sincere public apology. Brody was reticent to apologize at that meeting, but one day later, he did so in a statement.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and after reflecting on the conversation last night, I would like to clearly and publicly apologize to our staff and community for my behavior March 29th,” Brody said in the statement. “I will do better.”

Commissioner Kyle Battie said he disapproved of Brody’s actions but did not want to dwell on the subject. Arroyo offered limited remarks beyond his recounting of events, stating he did not perceive the incident to be as severe as reports made it out to be.

As part of the backup material for Tuesday’s meeting, Ahearn-Koch provided emails from residents who supported a continued investigation into Brody’s conduct — and, in some cases, punitive action from the rest of the commission.

“In any corporate environment, a leader who indulged in such behavior would be shown the door,” resident Kelly Franklin wrote in a May email. “While the City Commission does not have the power to remove a fellow commissioner from office, they do have the ability, and I believe the responsibility, not to condone or enable this behavior. Even if you can’t remove a bully from his pulpit, you can, and I believe must, take away the gavel.”

Back-up plans

Also at Monday’s commission meeting, the board is scheduled to discuss the possibility of waiving the city’s prohibition on back-in parking in public garages.

Commissioner Erik Arroyo placed the item on the agenda, stating it was inspired by him getting feedback from residents who received tickets for violating the rule restricting back-in parking. Arroyo said his research led him to believe that back-in parking is often considered a safer approach compared to pull-in parking, and he felt the city may not need to regulate how drivers navigated their cars into parking spots.

“I just put it on there as a discussion to see how we can move forward,” Arroyo said.

In an emailed statement, the city said the prohibition on back-in parking is intended to provide consistency and avoid confusion or safety issues while allowing enforcement personnel to easily identify license plates.

The full agenda for Tuesday’s meeting is available on the city’s website.

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