Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields does not think the Citizens' Advisory Commission is crumbling

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.

However, Mayor Fields told ABC Action News he does not feel the commission's size are the reasons for the resignations. He explained that county commissioners, from the very beginning, insisted the CAC consist of a diverse range of individuals.  Fields does not feel having five to six people on a panel could accomplish that goal.
"When you are dealing with things as challenging as this is...a lot of pressure begins to be applied to those who are in the middle of it," Fields said.
Fields is not sure if the five members who decided not to serve will be replaced.  He expects Thursday's meeting to include a 'candid discussion' about how the remaining members want to proceed.  He said they could decide to lessen the number of members, call for more town hall meeting, or make replacements.
He added that more members of the community have come forward to serve, but he declined to name them.
"We''ve got the tough decisions to make.  No matter what we still have the same work to do  no matter who decides to help us," Fields added.
Despite the sex scandal, a bra shaking incident caught on camera and now dozens of DUI cases being thrown out due to questionable testimony, the mayor has not dodged the media. 
"What we are seeing going on in Polk County happens across America," he said.
The mayor has also remained calm despite the sex scandal grabbing national headlines.
I have two special knee pads to help me when I get on my knees and pray at night," FIelds said of how he copes.
Fields says he does not expect anymore resignations.  He told ABC Action News following Wednesday's resignations, he did talk to the remaining members by phone and all indicated they would show up for the first meeting.

Members of the Lakeland Police Advisory Commission include:

Frank O'Reilly - Former Mayor of Lakeland and Former Polk School Board Member

Katrina Lunsford - Vice President, Fifth Third Bank

Ana Rivera - President & CEO, Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Polk County

Dr. Jim Sewell - Retired FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

Tim Jackson - COO, NuJak Development & Chair-Elect, Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce

Rick Garcia - Owner & President, Gulf Coast Avionics

Myra Bryant - President of the Lakeshore Neighborhood Association and President of Lakeland's Neighborhood Association Council

Mary Smith - President of the Dixieland Neighborhood Association

Paul Roberts - AP History and AP Government Teacher at Lakeland Sr. High School and Adjunct Professor at Everest University

Bruce Abels - Logistics & Supply Chain Professional, Retired as President of Saddle Creek Corporation after 15 years

The CAC will hold its first meeting on Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 3:30PM in the City Commission Chambers at Lakeland City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.
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