Ladies takes over Clewiston commission

Roland leaves commission with some heartfelt advice

CLEWISTON — “America’s Sweetest City,” as Clewiston is known, moved into a new era on Nov. 19, with one newly elected female commissioner joining the two veteran women on the panel to give them a majority over the men.

City Attorney Gary Brandenburg asked the three, who won election in the balloting concluded Nov. 6 — Melanie McGahee, Mali Gardner and Kristine Petersen — to stand and repeat the Florida oath of office after him. They were the top vote-getters with 922, 759 and 720 votes, respectively, among a field of seven candidates. The other four are men and included ousted Commissioner Phillip Roland, who received only 474 votes to finish sixth. The top male finisher was Jimmy Pittman, who won 617 votes.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Mali Gardner, Kristine Petersen and Melanie McGahee were sworn in at the Nov. 19 Clewiston City Commission meeting.

A round of applause filled the meeting room before the commission proceeded with its business. First up on the agenda was a resolution to acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments of the outgoing commissioner, Mr. Roland. Mayor Gardner asked that he come forward while she read the resolution of appreciation, which noted that he served for six years on the commission and declared it “fitting that the city commission pay tribute to Phillip Roland.”

Then she and the other commissioners presented him with a copy of the resolution and posed for pictures. She thanked him, and he replied: “Thank you. I want to speak … while I’ve got my chance.” The mayor chuckled and waved him to the podium.

He started with: “There’s a couple of things that I’d like to talk about that I didn’t accomplish. FMPA (Florida Municipal Power Association). I think I made a motion the first three or four months I was on the board to break the contract. I’m still standing here before you, and if I could make a motion tonight, I’d make the same motion. In checking with the Moore Haven, they pay three and a half cents; we pay 6.2 cents. It makes no sense. The electricity is on a grid that you can buy from. FMPA, really? Yes, they’ll send people down here, but FPL would send people here, too. It’s one of the things that I never got through — we never broke the contract — so we’re still at 30 years. Today, if we’d have got it passed six years ago, it’d be at 24 years. That’s one thing.

“Next thing: golf course. There’s a board in place. I would hope that we keep the board. I would hope that you give them more responsibility because they are seven golfers. We increased the number on that board from five to seven, and they are all golfers. There’s five men and two women who I think will do an outstanding job. If I had anything to say to you all about the budget, I would really, really, have the budget presented to that board before it came to you all to make sure they supported it. I think we got it down to $200,000 (deficit) last year. It was at $400,000 when I took office, and I told you all that I thought we could get it to less than $250,000, and we did manage to do that. I think that it’s a great asset to the city to go along with the lake, and the people that come to fish and play golf.”

Long a vocal advocate of keeping the golf course in the best possible condition, Mr. Roland noted he’d spent 25 years on the golf course board before he served on the commission, and the closest they got to breaking even for the city was between a $75,000 and $100,000 deficit, “and it was the year that we put the sprinkler system in. And I think if we equated dollar value, that it would be around $200,000, even with the cost of the insurance and wages that have gone up. I think it’s possible, you know. We cut prices and did all kinds of things the first year I was on the board, and certainly I wouldn’t be embarrassed to take Jack Nicklaus to that golf course today,” he finished, choking up.

Mayor Gardner rescued him, saying, “Well, thank you so much.”

Near tears, he soldiered on and said: “You know, we did a lot of things. One other thing that I want to say: We hired Al Perry (as city manager) while I was mayor. He’s really done a good job. He really has.” Mr. Roland pointed out all the great staff members who wouldn’t be present “if Al hadn’t been here.”

He ended: “There’s been a lot of things thrown around in the last year or so. I just ask you all, remember where you came from. Don’t judge yourself by where you are today, but think back where you came from.”

His voice giving out, Mr. Roland then sat down, to warm and polite applause. The resolution passed unanimously.

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