REDINGTON SHORES — The town commission has suspended one of its members. In a special meeting on Feb. 1, the commission voted 3-0 to suspend District 2 Commissioner Jeff Neal without pay for “electioneering,” which is prohibited in Town Hall, and making misleading and untrue statements of a political nature.
The vote was unanimous among those voting. Commissioners Jennie Blackburn, Bill Krajewski and Michael Robinson were in favor, while Mayor MaryBeth Henderson and Neal were recused from voting.
Neal’s ouster is for the remainder of his term, which will end with the March election. He is running to unseat Henderson as mayor.
Early in the meeting, Neal said the 72 hours he was given to prepare a defense of his actions, as required by town law, was “not enough.” He needed at least 30 days, he said.
In his defense, Neal said he believed his constitutional rights and the rights of his constituents in District 2 were violated by not giving him enough time to prepare a defense.
Neal said that for the past two and a half years, he had been “blindsided by personal attacks on myself, my business and even my wife.”
“I want all to know I did nothing wrong,” Neal said, “and yet I am being treated as if I did.”
The action to suspend Neal resulted from comments he made at the Jan. 19 town commission meeting, when an agenda item was discussed to “Designate a Replacement Point Person to Serve as the Liaison for the Town Commission in Ethics Complaint.” The previous liaison, Commissioner Pat Drumm, had resigned his commission seat, so a replacement was needed. Neal was the subject of the ethics complaint, which dated back to November 2019, and has not been resolved.
Neal, reading a prepared statement, said the item was on the agenda “for political reasons,” and was “an effort to discredit me and my reputation.” He then accused Henderson of “causing the resignation, termination or transfer of numerous town employees for political reasons or gain.” He continued with similar comments.
Henderson then pounded her gavel and told Neal, “Point of order.”
“This is a political attack,” Blackburn said.
After that Jan. 19 meeting, commissioners, acting separately, contacted Town Attorney James Denhardt asking what actions could be taken by the commission concerning Neal.
Krajewski, appointed to the commission in October to replace Drumm, wrote an email to the town clerk saying he wanted to lodge a formal complaint “regarding the conduct displayed by Commissioner Neal.”
“I am very disappointed Commissioner Neal used his position during the January Town Commission meeting for political purposes to intimidate as well as personally attack his opposing candidate in the upcoming Town mayoral election,” said Krajewski.
Krajewski also asked the town clerk to schedule a special meeting on the subject, and it was set for Jan. 27 following the workshop.
At that special meeting, attorney Denhardt reported that the town charter says the commission “may punish its own members for misconduct,” which includes the power to remove a member of the board. The commissioners talked about options to remove, suspend or censure Neal. As it became clear they favored suspension, the attorney said that any potential action against Neal would require 72 hours’ notice, and the February 1 special meeting was scheduled.
Though Neal had apologized at the Jan. 19 meeting for his remarks, he did not do so at the Feb. 1 meeting.
In making his motion to suspend Neal, Robinson said emphatically he was “not at all happy with this whole matter, and having this potential action in front of us.
“I would have felt much better this evening,” Robinson said, “if Commissioner Neal would have come in and simply apologized for the actions he took. That did not happen, and that’s unfortunate.”
Krajewski also said he was “not happy” with the actions of Neal and that he was very disappointed. He said “the reason we are here is not based on the actions of anybody else on this dais. It was based solely on the actions demonstrated and performed by Commissioner Neal on Jan. 19, period.”
“He said so many things that weren’t true,” said Blackburn.
Neal then left the meeting before the vote. As he departed, he could be heard uttering the word “chaos.”
Residents were not asked to speak at the meeting, which was carried by Zoom. Police were outside blocking the two entryways to Town Hall.
The town commission meetings are held in person for commissioners and staff, but residents are not allowed to attend because of COVID social distancing requirements.