by SARAH NACHIN
On Monday evening, October 5, the Brooksville City Council conducted a virtual meeting. Present were all five council members – Mayor Joe Bernardini, Vice Mayor Pat Brayton, Robert Battista, William Kemerer, Betty Erhard; City Clerk Jennifer Battista, City Manager Mark Kutney, and City Attorney Gretchen Vose. The meeting addressed several items on the agenda.
Citizens’ comments included email comments and those made by people attending the meeting virtually. All but one of the comments involved Councilwoman Erhard’s recent post on social media that concerned and even angered many business owners and city officials. Ms. Erhard had made a comment in a Facebook group, which she assumed was a private group. According to Erhard, her post stating that people should boycott the businesses in downtown Brooksville was in response to a negative comment about some of the businesses made by someone else in the group.
Erhard’s post was directed to Tammy Steinman, “Tammy Steinman boycott every establishment that has anything to do with BMS. Only way to is to deprive them of money. Greedy, selfish, self centered people.”
One email from the Steinkamp family said, “We love what the Brooksville Main Street has done for our city and are happy to have a small portion of our taxes go towards funding it. It awakens Brooksville to opportunity and vibrancy. We do not love city elected officials speaking negatively about our city and encouraging boycotts of the businesses in our city.”
Rory Killingsworth (owner of Little Lady Cafe) wrote an email stating, “It is time to hopefully move forward and look ahead to the best for this wonderful town…I have found myself wrapped up in the gossip and harsh words shared by both me and to me via texts and Facebook chats and that was…an error in judgement on my behalf and I apologize for my behavior… it is causing a negative image on the city and its businesses…I hope we can all work together to build a better Brooksville.”
Two other emails – one from Patrick Reeves owner of The Bistro and one from Amanda Young, another business owner called for Ms. Erhard’s resignation.
After Ms. Battista read three other emails, the floor was open for phone-in and citizens’ comments via Zoom. Ivy Cordell was the first to comment. She had set up the Facebook page on which Ms. Erhard made her comments.
Ms. Cordell commented, “I’m guilty of running on high emotions…and I’m not proud of myself. I created pain in my own heart by creating a Facebook page that would hurt my fellow Brooksvillians and I deeply apologize for that…I do love my community and I support local businesses. I really hope that you can forgive and that we can move forward.”
Peggy Johnson, a downtown business owner stated, “We’d like to create a cohesive community and it’s very difficult when you have a city council member asking for a boycott of the entire city’s businesses. We take pride in our business.”
In her formal apology read at the meeting Ms. Erhard stated:
“To the businesses, residents and fellow council members, I deeply apologize for my social media comments. I truly never meant to hurt anyone and anyone who knows me knows I would never consider such a thing. My post was a reply stated out of frustration for more funding for Brooksville Main Street. I neglected to think my comment through and acted very hastily and strictly on emotion. I’ve lived in Brooksville for forty-one years and I love being a public servant. I’ve accomplished many things on the council that I’m very proud of and I work every day for all the businesses and taxpayers in Brooksville. I hope you will forgive me so we can all move forward and prosper.”
Mayor Bernardini commented, “I ask that Betty Erhard cease and desist any over-the-top derogatory remarks on the Main Street program to include questioning the integrity of council members who support the program and attacks on downtown businesses who likewise support the program…If she continues the council should consider a formal resolution for censure.”
He did however accept the apology, but felt that it was “too little, too late.” Vice Mayor Brayton did not accept Ms. Erhard’s apology. Mr. Battista and Mr. Kemerer both accepted her apology.
In other business, the city council voted unanimously to renew the one-year contract to employ Jody Tadlock as the coordinator of the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery.
In regard to the continuation of funding for Brooksville Main Street, the council voted four to one to approve the shorter version of two agreements. Ms. Erhard cast the dissenting vote.
Before the meeting adjourned each member of the city council made brief closing remarks.
Mr. Kemerer stated, “I hope we can all move into a phase that we can all move forward.”
Mr. Battista, addressing Ms. Erhard, commented, “I look forward to working with you for the next two years.
Ms. Erhard reiterated, “Yes, I look forward to the remaining two years and I thank you [Battista] and Councilman Kemerer for accepting my apology, as well. I love being on the council I am extremely passionate which I understand can be viewed as ranting, angry, yelling. I thought I was elected to be a steward of taxpayers’ money and I will continue to do that.”
Mr. Brayton commented, “I think a lot was accomplished and look forward to the next meeting.”