Lee was let go last week almost exactly three months after temporarily stepping down as head of the department. City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. made the decision to fire Lee in an effort to move the city the forward, he said.
Past commission meetings have brought speakers from both sides of the argument with the United Sanford Alliance backing Lee’s reinstatement and the Concerned Citizens Group calling for his immediate resignation.
Lee attempted to turn in his resignation at the behest of Bonaparte about two months ago, however commissioners decided to reject the proposal in a 3-2 vote stating they wanted a review of Lee’s performance in the department before letting him go. Notably, Mayor Jeff Triplett voted to keep Lee on temporarily, despite voting in the affirmative in a 3-2 vote of no confidence in Lee only a month before.
Tensions were high during Monday’s evening meeting as residents with varying opinions on the subject spoke during citizen participation.
Some applauded Bonaparte for his decision, saying it was a step in the right direction for the City of Sanford.
Sanford resident Henry Sweet, who was a major player in the Concerned Citizens Group calling for Lee’s removal, kept his statement short simply saying, “Thank you,” to the commission.
Others were happy Lee is gone, but said more work needs to be done.
Resident Kenneth Bentley said he still would like to see a thorough investigation of the Sanford Police Department.
“We have a problem. The biggest thing we have to do is admit that,” he said. “Please get an outside agency [to do a review] – somebody that doesn’t have a dog in the fight.”
Resident Oscar Redden Jr. also called for changes in the department, saying in his lifetime he’s seen continual problems within the city.
“I know this town. We do need help,” said Redden. “That police department needs a good washing.”
Others in the crowd had disappointments also – however theirs’ revolved around the commission’s and city manager’s handling of the media attention resulting from the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
First time speaker Sandra Faint said she was disappointed how the entire situation was handled, and how city officials buckled under nationwide pressure.
“I think this whole thing had been badly mishandled,” she said. “Outside influences should not have had nearly the impact on our city that they did.”
Members of the United Sanford Alliance also expressed distaste about how the commission and city manager treated Lee specifically through the process.
Alliance member Sabrina McClellan said, “You should not be allowed to treat a veteran law enforcement officer the way you treated him.”
Resident Sherri Wilkie said Lee was not afforded the one right he took an oath to uphold – due process.
“This will be a travesty in the City of Sanford,” she said. “Chief Lee did not cause the death of Trayvon Martin but yet has been placed on public trial due to the acts of members of this commission, mayor, and now city manager.”
Commissioners offered little response to the public’s input. Most remained quiet during commissioners’ reports at the end of the meeting, however, Commissioner Randy Jones did offer some positive remarks to residents about looking forward in the City of Sanford.
“We are Sanford and we will go on,” he said. “We’re going to find a police chief. We’re going to find a doggone good one and we’re going to rally around him.”
Bonaparte said he is currently working with the Police Executive Research Forum to determine candidates for the police chief position. In the meantime Interim Chief Richard Myers will continue to head up the department.