Bonifay City Council meeting sees resident’s removal amid contentious debate

Richard Wilsey was removed from the Bonifay City Council meeting at the orders of Bonifay Mayor Larry Cook.

The Bonifay City Council convened for their regular meeting on Monday, July 1, at 9 AM. As per Florida Statute 286.0114, enacted in 2013, members of the public are granted a three-minute window to voice their concerns on propositions before the Board.
During this public commentary period, Richard Willsey, a local resident, took the podium to address the council. Willsey posed several questions, including inquiries about the timeline for City Hall renovations and the date-stamping procedure for letters of resignation and billing received by City Hall. Despite his questions, the council remained silent, offering no responses.
City Attorney Jon Holloway intervened, explaining to Willsey, “This is input on council propositions, not a question-and-answer session, which is why you’re not getting any answers.” This clarification did little to quell Willsey’s frustration.
The City of Bonifay’s agenda explicitly states, “This is not a question-and-answer session. This is NOT a political forum, nor is it a time for personal accusations and derogatory remarks to/or about City personnel.” Despite this reminder, Willsey continued his line of questioning beyond the allotted time. Mayor Cook informed him that his time was up, but Willsey persisted, leading to a verbal warning from the mayor.
When Willsey refused to relinquish the podium, Mayor Cook directed Police Chief Johnny Whitaker to escort him from the meeting. Samantha Perry, Willsey’s daughter, who was also attending the meeting, voiced her objections and was similarly removed after receiving a warning from the mayor.
Following the meeting, Willsey commented, “I was questioning the Council and the City Attorney for clarification on the assertions made at the end of the last Council meeting regarding ‘malicious accusations’ against the Mayor. I believe filing an Ethics Complaint is not malicious; it is the established process. My three-minute limit expired while I was making this point, and I should have been allowed to complete my thought.”
Willsey further referenced a precedent set by the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, stating, “It clearly states that unless a person is causing an ‘actual’ disturbance, all measures should be taken to disengage rather than eject a member of the public. This has been presented to the City Council on previous occasions but ignored. This Council seems to disregard the Civil Rights afforded to us by our Constitution.”
Police Chief Whitaker defended the council’s actions, stating, “There are procedures in place that need to be enacted and followed to maintain council proceedings. We followed those procedures without violating the rights of those speaking. We just want to ensure that the agenda can be fulfilled while also ensuring decorum is followed.” He added that both Willsey and Perry were given the opportunity to return to the meeting after their removal.
Despite the disruptions, the meeting proceeded as scheduled. Mayor Cook emphasized, “I ensure that everyone is allotted the time they are entitled to by law. In this case, I gave Mr. Willsey an opportunity to finish his prolonged thought before I even issued a warning.”

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