Sebastian City Councilman Damien Gilliams says the city assets were mishandled by the previous council members, an allegation that was already investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing.
What was said during the meeting by Gilliams could prompt a defamation lawsuit for the city.
The comment was made during the last city council meeting on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, during a vote to place former councilman and mayor Bob McPartlan on the Police Pension Board of Trustees.
During the vote proceedings, Gilliams argued that he wanted to have a discussion. He immediately said he opposed McPartlan’s appointment because he felt they were loading up the board with too many “government employees.” Gilliams argued that the board was designed to have balance.
He had a second issue regarding concerns of trust. Gilliams accused the former council members of mishandling money in the past.
“The other issue that concerns me is it’s a position of trust, there’s money involved as well, and there are issues that I’ve seen in the past … because there’s been city assets that were mishandled in the past,” Gilliams said.
Dodd interrupted Gilliams and asked him to stop. Gilliams said he wasn’t mentioning any names, but it was clear he was speaking about McPartlan.
“Stop, that has nothing to do with this conversation,” Dodd told Gilliams.
However, Gilliams tried to speak again until Dodd asked the city attorney to intervene. The city attorney warned Gilliams that he was getting into some potential liability issues by making allegations of criminal conduct.
“I’m a duly elected official here, you’re not allowing me to speak,” Gilliams told Dodd.
Dodd told Gilliams not to defame a former member of the council by accusing them of criminal activity.
“I am not talking criminal activity, and I have an attorney to defend myself. I have proof that there was surplus assets in this community that were given away,” Gilliams said before being interrupted by Dodd to cease.
The city attorney felt that Gilliams was talking about assets being improperly given away as if McPartlan was involved somehow, which is defamation.
“My concern was the defamatory nature of talking about something that he’s saying was criminal, and assets were improperly given away,” City Attorney Jim Stokes said.
You can watch this video to see the entire discussion,
Gilliams is accusing the former city manager and council of stealing sugar sand from the Sebastian cemetery.
The real story is the city allowed contractor Henry Fischer & Son to keep the sand in exchange for clearing and leveling the site to expand the cemetery.
Gilliams filed a complaint with Sebastian Police Chief Michelle Morris, which was then referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for an investigation in June of 2019.
Gilliams provided documents he obtained through Freedom of Information requests to the city, but investigators ruled that no crime had occurred.
“There is insufficient evidence in order to open a criminal investigation into the allegations that Gilliams has made,” the FDLE said in the report.
When the investigation was complete, Gilliams told TCPalm that he was hiring his own investigator and would present the findings to the Florida governor.
“This is not over yet. It doesn’t seem that the information ever made it to the state attorney’s office when the case was opened and closed on the same day,” Gilliams told TCPalm in October of 2019.
Gilliams alleged that the city council members and a city manager conspired and conducted “back door deals” during the purchase and the land excavation of property. The land was purchased for $300,000, and the land was appraised for $375,000.
Gilliams said that it was a “back door deal” because the sand was valued for much more money, which was mentioned during the city council meeting in 2013.
According to Gilliams, Fisher and Sons received a “kickback” because they contributed to Joe Giffith’s City Manager campaign. Gilliams alleges that the land was excavated in “secret,” so residents were not aware of the deal.
The allegations were labeled as false, and all council members and the city manager were cleared of any wrongdoing.