Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields
Lakeland, FL -- It was all about damage control at Lakeland City Hall Tuesday.
Mayor Gow Fields' idea to restore public trust with an independent commission to look into the police department's sex scandal was, instead, nearly derailed by a pair of surprise resignations.
The two leaders of the independent commission entrusted to look into the scandal and underlying problems in Lakeland abruptly resigned, leaving some to wonder if the pair had seen or learned something the rest of us have not... yet.
"It certainly is a disappointment, but we still have the same work to do whether they're with us or not," said Mayor Fields.
The Mayor says the city is still committed to restoring public confidence.
But some residents say it's hard to be confident when both co-chairs of the commission formed to look into the Lakeland Police Department's sex scandal resign within hours of each other.
Patricia Hagan, a Lakeland resident, wonders if the pair had come under political pressure to see things one way or another, and not allowed to be as independent as had been advertised.
"Yeah, I think they're getting an indication that there's something going on that they don't want to be involved with. That it's becoming more complicated than they thought," said Hagan.
Respected local businessman Joe Ruthven declined to comment on his resignation even though he'd originally asked to be on the commission.
It was a move Lakeland City Commissioner Phillip Walker called disappointing.
"They have their reasons. I have to accept that. That's all I can say," said Walker.
Ruthven's co-chair, Polk State College president Eileen Holden, also declined to comment on camera today.
But her letter to Mayor Fields offered some insight by raising questions about the size of the committee which had grown to 15 rather than five or six Holden says she was told it would be.
She also questioned whether they'd ultimately have any power, and whether any private meetings might violate Florida's Sunshine Laws.
Her letter goes on to cite a lack of trust between the city and State Attorney's office.
"Leadership and accountability breakdowns that are already evident" in the short time she'd been involved, she wrote.
Sean Esquinaldo, also a Lakeland resident seemed confident the remaining 13 panel members could get the job done.
"There's still so many other people on the committee so I guess that's why seeing just two people dropping out didn't really raise any flags for me," said Esquinaldo.
Mayor Fields says he doesn't expect any more resignations, leaving the advisory commission's size at 13.
It's a number, he feels, that still allows for adequate diversity.
"We still have a lot of talent that remains on the commission. We look forward to their work. We believe they're gonna add a great deal to what we have ahead of us to accomplish," said the Mayor.
The committee's first meeting is this Thursday 3:30 p.m. at Lakeland City Hall.
It will be open to the public, said Fields, as will all of the committee's meetings, in order to avoid any conflict with Florida's Sunshine law which requires public business to be conducted publicly.
The Mayor says right now has no one in mind to take the co-chair's places.
Instead, he says he may let the remaining members decide themselves who should lead the group.
Members of the Lakeland Police Advisory Commission include:
Dr. Anne Kerr - President of Florida Southern College
Dr. Elaine Thompson - CEO Lakeland Regional Health Systems and Lakeland Regional Medical Center
Frank O'Reilly - Former Mayor of Lakeland and Former Polk School Board Member
Katrina Lunsford - Vice President, Fifth Third Bank
Ana Rivera - President & CEO, Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Polk County
Dr. Jim Sewell - Retired FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement)
Tim Jackson - COO, NuJak Development & Chair-Elect, Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce
Rick Garcia - Owner & President, Gulf Coast Avionics
Dr. Kent Ingle - President, Southeastern University
Myra Bryant - President of the Lakeshore Neighborhood Association and President of Lakeland's Neighborhood Association Council
Mary Smith - President of the Dixieland Neighborhood Association
Paul Roberts - AP History and AP Government Teacher at Lakeland Sr. High School and Adjunct Professor at Everest University
Bruce Abels - Logistics & Supply Chain Professional, Retired as President of Saddle Creek Corporation after 15 years
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