LAKELAND, Fla. - In less than 24 hours, the Citizens' Advisory Committee will meet for the first time. Only five prominent members will not be in attendance. They resigned over the past two days.
The CAC was formed by Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields to help the city and police department weather the fallout from a sex scandal involving at least 10 LPD officers. At least five officers have lost their jobs as a result.
On Monday, the advisory co-chairs, Dr. Eileen Holden, who is president of Polk State College and Joe P. Ruthven, who is a prominent Lakeland businessman, emailed their resignations.
Wednesday afternoon, three more prominent panel members jumped ship.
Dr. Kent Ingle, President of Southeastern University, Dr. Anne Kerr, President of Florida Southern College and Elaine Thompson, CEO of Lakeland Regional Medical Center notified the mayor via email and by telephone.
"Not totally surprised," replied Mayor Fields when asked how he felt about the resignations. "A little disappointment at one level but the big thing is that we really get a chance to see the reaction of people who realize just how difficult this is."
Calls to Ingle, Kerr and Thompson for comment were not immediately returned.
In letters obtained by ABC Action News, Ingle stated that he believed transparency and openness are the significant avenues to cultivate healing and building trust.
Kerr sent a letter to the mayor stating, "I am concerned that a group of fifteen individuals will require more time reaching consensus without their leadership. Therefore, I too, must regretfully decline to continue serving."
Elaine Thompson verbally stepped down.
In Holden's letter to the mayor, Holden said she initially was told she'd overlook five or six citizens. However, roughly 15 citizen are now on the commission.
Holden also pointed to challenges facing the city, writing:
- The absence of consensus (and meaningful collaboration) on the City Commission
- A series of breakdowns in communication and accountability that span the City's organizational chart, from top to bottom, (an issue I see as both personal and cultural)
- An antagonistic relationship between the City and local print media
- A breakdown in trust between the City and the State Attorney's Office.
Holden went on to say, "On a personal note, I wish to emphasize the input I have already provided to you: specifically, I encourage you and your colleagues on the Lakeland City Commission to take this crisis as an opportunity to reflect with eyes wide open on leadership and accountability breakdowns that are already evident."
Holden concluded that the City has 'an opportunity to enact meaningful reform' in the choices they make to rectify this situation.
Ruthven reportedly also took issue with the size of the committee.