EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this story ran recently in The Tampa Tribune. We are reprinting the story for our Courier readers.
PLANT CITY — Mayor Mary Mathis last week signed a letter asking two state agencies to determine if City Commissioner Billy Keel improperly tried to dissuade a witness from cooperating in an investigation of then-Police Chief Steve Singletary.
Mathis and her fellow commissioners voted Feb. 10 to ask for the review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Office of Executive Investigations and the state Commission on Ethics.
Keel abstained from voting on the advice of City Attorney Ken Buchman, who said Keel shouldn’t take part in the decision because of a potential conflict of interest. Keel said before the vote that he favored the investigations because he wanted to clear his name.
Melissa Hardwick, who was having an affair with Singletary, has sworn under oath that Keel tried to persuade her through a mutual friend to keep silent as city officials looked into allegations against the chief.
Spokeswomen for FDLE and the ethics commission said their agencies don’t have any specific timeframes to act on complaints, although they try to get to them as soon as possible.
Among other duties, FDLE’s Office of Executive Investigations looks at criminal cases involving public corruption, spokeswoman Samantha Andrews said. The ethics commission looks at potential violations of state ethics laws, with penalties ranging from censure to removal from office.
Singletary, 45, was fired late last month after City Manager Greg Horwedel concluded that the chief called in sick or failed to take time off when he met the 35-year-old woman and had sex with her on city property.
City commissioners asked the state agencies to determine if Keel used his office to try to derail the investigation. Veteran Commissioner Mike Sparkman said after the 4-0 vote that he doesn’t necessarily think Keel did anything wrong, but “we need to clear the air and this was the only way to do it.”
Horwedel decided to put the question of a state investigation to the commission after receiving a Feb. 7 letter from Keel calling for him to do so, and asking “that the commission by way of unanimous vote ask the City Manager to send a request to an independent agency.”
In Keel’s letter to Horwedel, the commissioner said he did nothing wrong, but he offered no details other than to say he acted as a friend of Singletary’s.
“I in no way used or attempted to use in any manner, my position as City Commissioner of the City of Plant City to intervene in this or any other investigation, not now, and not ever,” Keel wrote.
He said in the letter that he has tried to remain silent out of respect for the people involved, but now is the time to speak out. This case, Keel said in the letter, has shaken the city and the people involved.
City commissioners appointed Keel in November 2012 to serve the remainder of Dan Raulerson’s unfinished term. Raulerson resigned to take a state House seat.
Keel won a full three-year term because no one filed to run against him when the seat was up for re-election.