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New Bonifay mayor sworn in, councilman faces ethics violation

Travis Cook took the oath as the new mayor of Bonifay as of Monday night’s regular city council meeting.

City Clerk Rickey Callahan swore in Cook and then a new council member recommended by Councilman Ryan Martin. The council was left with an open seat upon the resignation of former mayor James “Eddie” Sims Aug. 25.

“I guess it’s always kind of been on the bucket list,” Cook said. “Maybe not at 38 years old, but here we go.”

Cook dove right into the business of appointing a new council seat. Martin recommended Emily McCann for Seat 1.

“Of all the time that I have been here as a citizen and as a council member, Emily has consistently brought nothing but positive before the council chamber and done really, really good work in the city,” Martin said.

Councilwoman Sierra Smith made a motion to appoint McCann to the council seat. The motion passed with a unanimous vote.

Getting into regular business, the council approved minutes from the Aug. 25 special session called upon Sims’ resignation. The council also approved payment of regular bills.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Lt. Jack Griffiths of Bonifay Fire-Rescue presented an update of needed repairs for Engine 1 which is currently out of service and in need of a few thousand dollars worth of engine work.

In old business, the council reviewed progress with getting the newly paved Hubbard Street restriped with a double solid yellow line as the street currently has a dotted line that’s caused concern for the safety of motorists who may attempt to pass on a residential street with hills that limit visibility.

Councilman Roger Brooks told the council that engineering firm Mott MacDonald responded to the discrepancy by saying they would remedy the conditions by blacking out the current line and painting a double solid yellow line soon as the weather permits.

“They said they would work with us any way they could to make it right,” Brooks said.

The council turned their attention to a lawn care maintenance agreement with Holmes County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) as regular contractors have walked away due to the current cost of fuel. The council unanimously passed the agreement with HCSO as an option to save the city about $22,000 on mowing.

McCann brought up a concern with traffic safety around the old school that is now the Holmes County Development Commission (HCDC) business complex on McLaughlin Avenue. With increased business activity on the campus, traffic has increased at the intersection of McLaughlin Avenue and Telfair Street. The council passed a motion to add stop signs to make the intersection a three-way stop.

The council discussed a need to add alternate members to the Highway 79 Corridor Authority board and possibly a paid position to manage the board’s business. The item will be reviewed further in an upcoming workshop.

In new business, the council approved the hire of one new full-time officer for Bonifay Police Department.

The date and hours for Halloween trick-or-treating were set for Monday, Oct. 31 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. inside the city.

Other Halloween festivities are on the calendar. Waukesha Way is partnering with HCDC to host a free family fun night Saturday, Oct. 29 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 401 McLaughlin Ave. The event will feature a spooky movie night, costume contest, inflatables, treats and food.

The council approved the removal of six aging pecan trees from Veterans Memorial Park to alleviate falling limbs and disruptive tree roots.

City Attorney Michelle Jordan suggested that the council review its city charter that’s been in place since 1991 as some of the provisions have become outdated. The council agreed to assemble a charter review commission by each council member appointing one commission member from the community.

In the final topic of the night, Cook brought up a report on ethics complaints filed by Beverly Gilley against Brooks in January.

In a joint stipulation, Brooks agreed to a settlement in lieu of further hearings on 10 separate ethics violation allegations. The allegations included:

-harassing code enforcement officers for the benefit of his constituents

-attempting to influence pending judicial proceedings involving theft of utilities for the benefit of a constituent

-asking city employees to take care of constituent property owners with city resources to benefit his reelection

-demanding that a local business owner clean up private property for a private annual event held by an organization Brooks is a longtime member of

-using his city-issued phone for personal use

-using city resources to erect a fence along his private property with sole benefit to his property

-directing a city employee to do personal chores at his residence

-attempting to facilitate expenditure of public funds to defer costs of improvements made to private property owned by Kiwanis Club, of which Brooks is a longtime member

-asking city staff to help him get reelected by providing services to constituents using city resources

-abusing his public position to obtain disproportionate benefit for himself

According to the report, the advocate recommended to the commission that the only allegation with probable cause was that Brooks directed city employees to do personal chores at his residence.

Brooks admitted to that allegation and denied the rest. The recommended action is that the other nine allegations be dismissed and that Brooks pay a civil penalty of $1,500 for the one with probable cause in lieu of any further proceedings. By signing the report, Brooks waived any confidentiality to the proceedings.

The ethics commission is scheduled to meet Oct. 21 at 8:30 a.m. in Tallahassee for a final hearing on the stipulation.

Cook recommended that the council discuss the one item Brooks admitted to at a public hearing.

“I know the charter says that if you’re found by admission of an ethics violation, you will forfeit office,” Cook said.

Brooks responded by saying that the report is still pending and has not been accepted by the ethics commission.

“The advocate for the commission as well as my attorney will present a request to the commission at the next meeting in October asking them to reconsider that,” Brooks said.

The date for the public hearing will be set and advertised two weeks in advance.

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