Ockunzzi Comes Under Fire as IRB's Johnson Delivers a Strong and Chilling Message
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - The question among political observers here now is whether Bill Ockunzzi can survive politically if he chooses to run for re-election in March.
Many think that Commissioner R.B. Johnson's chilling and deadly criticism of the mayor-commissioner may have driven a stake into the heart of any further political ambition on the part of Ockunzzi.
Johnson excoriated Ockunzzi at the City Commission meeting October 17 for a misleading "news release" Ockunzzi had put out supposedly describing what happened at the commission meeting the previous week.
Ockunzzi had pressed for two amendments to be made to the city charter that the voters would decide at referendum in March. The commission turned that down, 4-1, and Ockunzzi subsequently put out word that a committee would be formed to try to get enough signatures to get the ideas on the March ballot.
Now, in light of what has been going on, crowned by Johnson's diatribe last Wednesday, the key question on March's ballot will be whether Ockunzzi will survive, if he chooses to run.
The heat on Ockunzzi has increased with one leading figure raising the question as to whether Ockunzzi can be removed from office because he is an obstacle to getting "meaningful work done on the City Commission."
But it is the words of Johnson, delivered in a calm and steady voice with a deadly chill, that are most meaningful in the Ockunzzi picture now.
Johnson very clearly accused Ockunzzi of falsifying, in his "news release," what actually was said at the October 9 meeting when the suggestions for amendments were turned down.
In fact, one person said, when the Ockunzzi "news release," that was distributed by e-mail, surfaced, "I just realized that the statements Ockunzzi says he made during the meeting were never said. He just makes things up. He tried to force the 'town hall meeting' by saying the charter requires that we hold one a year. This is absolutely false. The charter says no such thing."
Johnson said in his diatribe, "I was surprised by a number of quotes that 'news release' had and only one was anywhere near close to what was actually said."
Johnson also said that he was surprised that a "news release" created by Ockunzzi himself would then refer to Ockunzzi in the third person.
"Just to be charitable and give some kind of explanation to this maybe the mayor is in some kind of parallel universe," Johnson said. He said he found it all "extremely disturbing."
"We can disagree and we can have opinions but to have something like this go to the press and it is not what happened at the meeting. I have never seen anything like this," Johnson continued.
Then Johnson pressed on, obviously very serious about his words and bringing listeners at the city hall meeting to a silence where you could hear a pin drop, and said, "This is very upsetting, very disturbing.
"Action needs to be taken. There should be a written apology with an assurance that it will not happen again. There is a charter provision that allows us to censure a member."
The question of whether to take action then went around the commission members.
Terry Hamilton-Wollin said that she was "stunned by the e-mail 'news release' and brought up thoughts of how we elect our mayor. Only 23 percent voted for (Ockunzzi) in the last election, which means 77 percent voted for someone else."
Addressing Ockunzzi, she said, "You act like you were anointed king."
Jose Coppen, long a critic of Ockunzzi and one who has had several run-ins with him, passed on any comment.
Bert Valery, who had earlier questioned Ockunzzi's leadership, said he was disappointed.
What action may be taken is unknown at this point.
Commission members seemed to want a meeting to discuss the action that Johnson called for. Ockunzzi was against this, naturally.
When it was pressed, Ockunzzi made it clear he did not want it at the early part of a regular meeting because residents would hear it and he didn't want "dirty laundry aired publicly," an idea which seems to conflict with all accepted ideas of open government.
What needs to happen, according to experienced observers here, is that the City Commission hold a special meeting to specifically take up the Ockunzzi case with all the trimmings.
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