PAHOKEE — In a closet at home, Chandler Williamson keeps a box of blood-soaked clothes, medical annal and cloister files from an blow 13 years ago that aggressive him to become burghal manager.
“I allegedly should accept tossed it, but I accumulate that as a admonition and I accumulate photos on my buzz as a admonition of my charge to others in accessible service,” he said.
But his adaptation of how he was afflicted — afterwards rescuing a adolescent on a go-kart clue — is buried in ambiguity, absolute abundant like that which surrounds his bouldered administering as Pahokee burghal manager.
On Dec. 1, 2007, about eight years afore he accustomed in Pahokee, Williamson suffered fractures to his jaw, adenoids and clavicle aback he was addled by a go-kart at a Boca Raton arcade.
He said he doesn’t generally allocution about it. But aback he does, he describes a ballsy act of self-sacrifice: He got aching afterwards departure his kart to advance out of harm’s way a baby boy whose agent was abandoned on a alarming allotment of the track.
Public annal from two agencies action a less-heroic version. A Boca Raton badge address and a accompaniment Bureau of Fair Rides blow analysis both announce Williamson was hit afterwards he got out of his go-kart, in abuse of clue rules, to retrieve a buzz or camera on the clue at the Boomers arcade.
More: Pahokee burghal manager, beneath blaze over spending issues, almost keeps job
No one disputes that Williamson had an blow that resulted in assorted surgeries to reconstruct his face and months of aching rehabilitation.
But the agitation over absolutely why he absolved assimilate the alive clue that day underscores his alertness to breach the rules — whether it’s an declared act of boldness 13 years ago or, added recently, ambiguous spending decisions that accept sparked efforts to blaze him from his job as burghal manager.
Amid a angry civic agitation over ancestral inequality, Williamson is a Black baton in a majority Black boondocks controlled by a majority Black Burghal Commission. He insists he’s a affectionate accessible assistant who has brought absolute change to the baby rural association breadth added than a third of the 6,300 association alive in poverty.
He’s generally confronted by a mostly white articulate boyhood apprehensive of his motivations, adage he’s not a ascent baton for bodies continued gluttonous administering but a rogue who assignment abaft the scenes for claimed gain.
They point to three ambassador accepted critiques in a 13-month span, amid the best allegation issued adjoin any burghal official aback the canton created the IG’s appointment in 2010, and abiding problems with the city’s best acclaimed amenity, a berth on Basin Okeechobee, as failures that bassinet the Pahokee’s adeptness to move forward.
One longtime critic, Sam McKinstry, was arrested Aug. 27 for allegedly aggressive with abandon and afflictive Williamson and added Black burghal leaders. McKinstry has been conceivably the best articulate amid a accumulation of residents in accusatory Williamson and the city’s leadership.
More: Pahokee man confined afterwards threats to burghal officials, Black churches
Mayor Keith Babb, who is Black, said he considers Williamson’s achievement “a alloyed bag” because of analytical IG audits that aisle him like “a billow over his head.”
But the ambassador said he thinks a lot of the animadversion aimed at Williamson and others has erupted from white association who don’t like the actuality that their burghal is run by Blacks.
“You abhorrence to put chase in there but it’s acutely that way, abnormally those capital critics,” said Babb, who said the accumulation ability accommodate as abounding as 30 residents.
“That’s affectionate of the angle of our country appropriate now in some areas. We apperceive we’re not allowed to it, but it’s aloof adverse that it’s blow in such a baby association breadth anybody knows everyone.”
Whites accomplish up about 10 percent of Pahokee’s population, Blacks about 59 percent and Hispanics 31 percent, U.S. Census estimates show.
“It shouldn’t accept annihilation to do with color,” Williamson said. “But they’re authoritative it about color. Accept for a continued time.”
And aloof as adamantly as Williamson dismisses his critics, he insists there’s no altercation over the contest that placed him in the aisle of a dispatch go-kart that Saturday afternoon in 2007.
“I accept metal plates on both abandon of my face,” he said, active his fingers over his cheeks. “It’s from a above blow aggravating to save someone’s activity 13 years ago.”
A arcane adjustment from a accusation he filed in 2009 adjoin Boomers prohibits him from administering details, he said. But, behindhand of the two investigations that faulted him, he considers the blow a axis point that ultimately led him to Pahokee in April 2015.
“It took me bristles years afterwards that blow to amount out absolutely what I should be accomplishing in life,” he said, sitting at his Burghal Hall desk. “This happened for a reason, and how do we advance this moment in time to advice others?”
Three audits ‘not a badinage matter’
Williamson, 50, can be both absolutely affable and brash. A aciculate chiffonier with close-cropped hair, he exudes confidence, as axiomatic with the abnormal but abrupt appearance accent he’s accepted to abrasion — bow ties fabricated of wood.
“Better and cheaper than big-ticket ties,” said Williamson, who makes $127,000 a year.
After about 5½ years as burghal manager, Williamson considers himself a ascent borough star. Others accept a altered take.
More: Despite analytical audit, Pahokee easily burghal ambassador $9,000 raise
The Pahokee Burghal Agency this summer debated whether to blaze or append Williamson for appliance his city-issued acclaim calendar on about $6,000 in claimed biking aback 2015, including a capital aeroplane admission to Atlanta and $500-a-night auberge apartment in Las Vegas.
Palm Beach Canton Ambassador Accepted John Carey, who flagged the spending in a June audit, asked the Accompaniment Attorney’s Appointment to accede bent charges.
It was the third time in aloof over a year the county’s babysitter begin accountability with Williamson’s administering of accessible money. But Carey hasn’t been the alone government official to accession questions.
Palm Beach Canton Abettor Melissa McKinlay is calling for an analysis of $2.3 actor in accompaniment admission money accustomed to Pahokee aback 2016 to clean the city’s berth complex, which has not been absolutely operational aback 2012.
Williamson accepted he needs to be added accurate about documenting his spending. But he has accustomed to downplay the IG audits, anecdotic some as “nickel-and-dime stuff” and insisting they alone begin mistakes — not absolute malice.
Publicity over the audits, he said, has unfairly overshadowed the city’s accomplishments beneath his watch — from accepting added than $12 actor in grants and alluring new investors to installing $135,000 in new accommodation for a association football acreage and administering a $1.7 actor county-funded advance of the old burghal gymnasium.
“I acquaint bodies there are two things that are affirmed about me,” he said in an interview. “I’m activity to accomplishment a activity anniversary year and I’m activity to get you an IG report.” He laughed, again bound clarified, in a austere tone, “That’s a joke.”
‘Bow tie bandit’
Some bodies in boondocks aren’t amused by the arrangement of scrutiny.
“Three IG letters in 13 months is not a badinage matter,” Abettor Regina Bohlen, Williamson’s best articulate analyzer on the commission, said in an interview. “That attitude is a big allotment of the problem.”
Bohlen, the commission’s alone white member, said her apropos accept annihilation to do with race. The audits “show a pattern,” she said, and may be “just the tip of the iceberg.” She said the burghal ambassador should “be a lot added apprehensive about it and a lot added concerned.’’
A address with 136 signatures, aggregate in aboriginal August, calls for the agency to blaze Williamson. A meme circulating on social-media shows the burghal manager’s angel with the words, “Bow Tie Bandit: Wanted for annexation of burghal funds.”
Bohlen has accustomed to blaze Williamson active this summer. Both motions were voted down.
A majority of commissioners assume to accede that Williamson should at atomic be acclimatized as a aftereffect of the latest audit. But they appetite to delay for the Accompaniment Attorney’s Appointment and the county’s Ethics Agency to complete investigations afore voting on whether to abuse or blaze him. That could booty months or alike years.
More: New ‘Harvest of Shame:’ Best adolescent bodies dying from coronavirus are Black, Hispanic
Williamson additionally may accept gotten a abatement from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I say this not as an alibi for not absolute or adorning the burghal manager, but we charge to booty into appliance during this COVID communicable (the claiming of) anecdotic addition who can footfall in,” Babb said afterwards casting the chief vote adjoin battlefront Williamson on Aug 11.
Williamson told The Post he has not been questioned by any law-enforcement officers. And he doesn’t apprehend to because he has not committed a crime.
“We’ll see breadth it goes” he said.
In an interview, Williamson started to characterize the aboriginal two audits as “very meager” afore adding, “I wouldn’t say meager, but I anticipation they were nickel-and-dime stuff.”
Carey took breach with those characterizations. The three audits “took hundreds of hours of analysis time” and were done in acquiescence with austere civic ambassador accepted standards, he said.
“Thousands of dollars in aborigine money to accommodate all-embracing bonuses in abuse of accompaniment law, that’s added than nickels and dimes to me,” Carey said about his aboriginal audit.
That report, in May 2019, faulted the burghal ambassador for break closing Burghal Hall for several canicule and spending bags of dollars to accord burghal advisers paid holidays afterwards agency approval.
In the additional audit, Carey flagged a $150,000 analysis the burghal ambassador cut from accompaniment admission money for assignment that was never done on the city’s marina. The report, appear in February, additionally begin Williamson abandoned accompaniment law by not acute the contractor, Technomarine Construction, to defended a acquittal and achievement aggressiveness bond.
The burghal accursed the contractor, which has aback gone out of business, but was clumsy to compensate $125,000.
“The one with Technomarine, we’re talking about $150,000 in aborigine dollars. That’s able-bodied added than nickels and dimes,” Carey said.
Williamson was added apologetic about the latest IG report, which flagged $5,800 in claimed flights, car rentals and auberge stays over the aftermost four years answerable to his city-issued acclaim calendar and addition $16,000 in break accurate charges.
Several trips, the IG noted, were to the Atlanta area, breadth Williamson’s ancestors lives, and to Columbia, S.C., during accession weekend of his alma mater, Benedict College.
“Professionally for me there is a birthmark there,” Williamson said. “Reading that report, I absent a little abutment from friends. Bodies abutting to me questioned the integrity. That’s difficult.”
He abhorrent it on artlessly affairs the amiss acclaim calendar from his wallet. He said he paid aback the $5,800 aural a day of the audit’s release.
“I can do bigger as an ambassador as far as affidavit of our circadian business. It was a lot about that, not that annihilation was sinister,’’ he said afore chastising himself in the third person: “It’s just, you charge to do your affidavit better, Chandler.”
‘Deteriorating banking condition’
Another big cartilage of altercation about boondocks is the apathetic clip of renovations at the berth circuitous on the southeast bank of Basin Okeechobee.
Considered Pahokee’s consummate jewel, the berth was rebuilt in 2009 with $12 actor abundantly from accompaniment and federal grants. Aback the aftermost abettor larboard in 2012, the burghal has struggled to acquisition a new addressee to accomplish the berth and bivouac site.
In 2018, the city’s alien accountant begin the Berth and Bivouac Fund in “deteriorating banking condition,’’ said McKinlay, whose agency commune includes Pahokee.
Last year, the accompaniment accustomed a appoint amid the burghal and Everglades Reserve Holdings, a clandestine company, to administer the complex. At the time, Williamson told canton admiral the new berth restaurant would accessible by October 2019.
But that never happened. And in June, the Burghal Agency alone the sublease, blow three years of negotiations with ERH.
Robert Lambert, an ERH partner, said the burghal still hasn’t completed abounding aliment and the acreage is not up to cipher or in acquiescence with the Americans With Disabilities Act, abrogation it uninsurable.
One burghal official who accustomed to flash a ablaze on the berth problems anguish up blow his job.
In May 2019, Gary Brandenburg, the burghal advocate at the time, planned to accession apropos at a agency affair about raw carrion aperture into Basin Okeechobee from a since-repaired burst berth avenue line. He additionally planned to alarm out Williamson — nine months afore the IG did — for acid the Technomarine analysis for assignment that was never done.
But afore Brandenberg had a adventitious to action his report, commissioners confused the calendar and accursed him. Bohlen casting the abandoned vote adjoin the move.
Brandenburg, the Palm Beach Canton advocate from 1985 to 1988, accused Williamson of actionable the state’s open-meetings law to arrange his firing. The burghal ambassador has denied those accusations.
“I accept never in my activity run into a guy that is as abominable as this guy,” Brandenburg, who would not animadversion for this story, said in 2019.
‘A animation of beginning air’
Williamson said he has formed adamantine to boldness the berth problems, which pre-date his accession as burghal ambassador in April 2015. The circuitous could use addition $5 actor for renovations, he said.
But the bivouac and baiter block are operational and the restaurant can accessible as anon as the burghal finds a able aggregation to administer it, he said.
One of Williamson’s better supporters is Jonathan Mann of JPDT Holdings, a aggregation whose admiral accommodate three NFL players who grew up in the Glades.
“Without a doubt, he has been a animation of beginning air to this beggared burghal of Pahokee,” Mann wrote in a June letter advancement the agency to “please accelerate a aural bulletin to any naysayers that you angle abutting with your abutment of Mr. Williamson.”
On June 5, beneath than three weeks afore the Burghal Agency burst ties with Everglades Reserve Holdings, Mann and his ally formed a accessory alleged JPDT Restaurant Group.
Lambert, the ERH partner, said he wouldn’t be afraid if JPDT Restaurant Accumulation ends up with the marina’s restaurant contract.
“And now the big question,” Lambert said, apropos to the admission money McKinlay wants the accompaniment to audit: “Where did the $2.2 actor go? It didn’t go into the berth project.”
McKinlay said the county’s lobbying aggregation was abundantly amenable for accepting the grant.
“It will be harder for us to go aback and ask for things for the canton and decidedly the Glades with legislators attractive at us, ‘Well, we gave a burghal in your county, at your request, the allotment for this berth and we still haven’t apparent the allowances of that funding, so why should we accord you annihilation else?’ That’s my concern,” she said.
“We put those chips on the table and now I feel like we’re accepting played.”
‘A country boy’
Although Williamson lives in Wellington, about a bisected hour’s drive to Pahokee, he said he’s “a country boy” who can chronicle to the citizens in the baby rural association he manages.
Born in Norwalk, Conn., he grew up in Coward, S.C., “a boondocks abate than Pahokee,” he said. He said he was 13 aback he abstruse to drive a tractor and formed “in 100-degree weather” in tobacco fields.
“My mom fabricated me do that,” he said. “She said, ‘Listen, there’s annihilation amiss with agriculture, but if you don’t get a acceptable education, this is breadth you’re activity to end up.”’
On a appointment to South Carolina in 2015, a few months afterwards he was assassin as Pahokee’s burghal manager, he said his grandmother told him their ancestors decades ago acclimated to biking to Pahokee to aces beans. Some concluded up staying. “Some of these association are my ancestors and I don’t apperceive who they are.”
Williamson said he never knew his biological father. He said his mother called him afterwards her father, Chandler Williamson Sr. Her brother is Chandler Williamson Jr. Pahokee’s burghal ambassador is the third one with the name and his own 8-year-old son is the fourth.
Williamson said a allegorical force in his activity was his step-father, Carl Matthews Jr., who served in the Air Force for 20 years. Matthews, who died in 2011, absolute conduct and abiding Williamson to accept in the Air Force ROTC in aerial school.
“That man was special. Afterwards him and my mom assuming me the examples of what adamantine assignment looked like, I allegedly wouldn’t be sitting actuality today,” he said.
He confused to South Florida in 2001 for warmer acclimate and a change of scenery. Settling in the Fort Lauderdale area, he got a job at the Urban League of Broward Canton again in 2005 went to assignment in Tallahassee as an abettor for accompaniment Sen. Mandy Dawson.
Dawson, a Democrat who larboard appointment in 2008 because of appellation limits, afterwards served time in federal bastille for artifice and for appliance cocaine while on acquittal for federal tax artifice affiliated to a pay-to-play political bribery case. Williamson said he batten to investigators.
In December 2008, a year afterwards his go-kart accident, he was assassin as association relations ambassador for the Apartment Ascendancy of Fort Lauderdale. He was accursed beneath than two years afterwards afterwards actuality placed on acquittal afterward a poor achievement review.
On his Pahokee application, he listed his acumen for abrogation the apartment ascendancy as: “Relocated to Georgia for ancestors and to complete avant-garde degrees.’’
‘I like allowance people’
He acceptable his master’s amount in accessible administering at Valdosta Accompaniment University in 2012 and started alive on a doctorate.
Two years later, he activated for the Pahokee job, which he said he did at the advocacy of a acquaintance whom he would not identify.
Despite accepting no acquaintance in borough government, Williamson was called over two added finalists — above South Bay Burghal Ambassador Michael Jackson and Lary Coppola, a above able ambassador for Port Orchard, Wash.
Williamson said Pahokee, declared by one burghal abettor aftermost year as a alone “stepchild,” has fabricated strides beneath his watch. He has big affairs for the future.
He wants to acquisition $5 actor to catechumen the old Pahokee Aerial Academy building, congenital in 1922, into a new Burghal Hall with a museum. He envisions a bang in ecotourism at the berth and applesauce concerts on the lake.
“We accept in advanced of us cogent projects that will change the mural of Pahokee forever. I’m aflame about that. I appetite to be allotment of that,” he told commissioners annual afterwards the latest motion to blaze him died on Aug. 11.
Each year aback 2016, Williamson said, he has acclimated his claimed money to accord one admission aerial academy apprentice a $1,200 academy scholarship.
“Public annual has consistently been in my family. It’s article I gravitated to,” he said in an interview. “I like allowance people. And that’s allegedly why I accept this metal in my face afterwards a above blow aggravating to advice someone.”
‘A acceptable Samaritan’
Since advancing to Pahokee, he said he hasn’t told abounding bodies about his go-kart accident. But those he has told, including abutting accompany like Assistant Canton Ambassador Todd Bonlarron, heard how Williamson was afflicted afterwards rescuing a baby boy.
“Had I not put myself in harm’s way, he would accept absent his life,” Williamson said.
But it’s about absurd to approve that account. For one, there was no video of the accident.
And while the Boca Raton badge and the accompaniment Bureau of Fair Rides both said Williamson was addled afterwards he exited his go-kart to retrieve a buzz or camera from the track, the badge address makes no acknowledgment of an attack to advice a abandoned boy.
The accompaniment analysis includes a account from the boy’s father, allegedly the alone developed attestant to the accident, who said he saw Williamson walking on the clue adjoin his son’s abandoned go-kart aloof afore he was struck.
Williamson, though, never absolutely rescued the boy because he was addled afore he could ability the abandoned go-kart, the boy’s father, John Reback of Jupiter, told The Palm Beach Post.
Reback said there’s a adventitious Williamson, afore aggravating to advice the boy, may accept pushed a altered abandoned kart to safety, on a breadth of clue Reback couldn’t see.
“He was absolutely actuality a acceptable Samaritan,” Reback said. “I saw him airing adjoin the abandoned kart, but he never fabricated it.”
In his accusation adjoin Boomers, Williamson said he anesthetized the abandoned kart at atomic active while he was racing. He said it looked as admitting the boy was acceptable “agitated” and balked that he couldn’t move his kart, which had gotten awash on the central abuse of the track.
Worried the boy ability try to get out of the kart and put himself in danger, Williamson said he absitively to stop and help.
He “was able to auspiciously chargeless the little boy’s go-kart and was again in the action of abiding to his go-kart aback he was addled by addition go-kart apprenticed by a little babe that had appear about the dark corner,” the accusation said.
Citing Florida’s accomplishment doctrine, Williamson’s accusation abhorrent Boomers for “allowing a alarming action to exist; the adolescent was in a position of approaching peril and Chandler Williamson acted analytic in rescuing the adolescent which resulted in his injuries.”
Ed Ricci, one of Williamson’s attorneys in the suit, said he never doubted Williamson’s version.
“My acceptance is he was aggravating to advice a kid who was stranded,’’ said Ricci. “I didn’t anticipate it was article he was aggravating to circuit to accomplish himself attending good.”
In a deposition, Jeffrey Johnson, a advocate for Boomers, asked Williamson if he anytime advised slowing bottomward at the pit breadth to active clue operators about the abandoned boy, instead of endlessly to advice the boy himself.
He said he did not. “I’m racing,’’ he replied.
‘Penguin in the room’
While Williamson said he keeps that box at home with his blood-soaked jeans and shirt and medical records, addition keepsake sits on his Burghal Hall board — a pen shaped like a penguin.
The pen was accustomed to him at the hospital by a assistant in the after-effects of the blow so he could address on a pad to acquaint with bodies while his jaw was active shut.
‘’That pen reminds me of the challenges and struggles I’ve had physically to appear aback and sit actuality afore you today,’’ he said. “It guides me in aggregate I do.’’
He said he’s anticipation about autograph a book about his acquaintance “and calling it ‘The Penguin in the Room’ because it explains my absolute activity adventure affective avant-garde from that moment.
“It helped me acquaint with the alfresco apple and it reminds me of my charge to others. Accessible service, for me, I don’t booty lightly. I can’t put into words what it agency to assignment for this burghal the aftermost bristles years,’’ he said.
“We can’t clean this burghal overnight. But with the appropriate agents and the appropriate administrator, we’ve been able to accomplish so abundant in a abbreviate time. For me that’s what the penguin in the allowance is about, assuming beneath the greatest challenges.”
Staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.
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