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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Plant City Courier

Plant City may ask state to investigate commissioner


Published:   |   Updated: February 7, 2014 at 11:34 PM

TAMPA — The Plant City Commission will decide at its meeting Monday whether to ask an outside state agency to investigate Commissioner Billy Keel’s role in the investigation of an extramarital affair that brought down the city’s police chief.

Keel is accused of asking a key witness to remain silent to protect his friend, Police Chief Steve Singletary.

City Manager Greg Horwedel said Friday he’ll ask commissioners to determine if the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the state’s ethics commission should investigate.

Horwedel decided to pose the question after receiving a letter from Keel on Friday 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.”

Melissa Hardwick, the woman who had an affair with Singletary, said in a sworn statement that Keel told her through a mutual friend she should keep silent about the relationship to protect Singletary. Hardwick’s husband, Jason Hardwick, corroborated his wife’s statement and said she had shown him text messages from a friend of Keel’s asking that she refrain from cooperating with an internal city investigation.

Horwedel said that if directed, he will send results of the investigation to FDLE or the ethics commission and “have them review it.”

In Keel’s letter to Horwedel, the commissioner said he did nothing wrong but he offered no additional details.

“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 acknowledges 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.

“This whole thing puts a cloud over the city, and puts my fellow commissioners in an untenable position to be pressed to take investigative action of some kind against a fellow commissioner,” Keel wrote in the letter.

Last month, Horwedel fired Singletary — who is married — for violating city policies by spending time with Hardwick when he should have been working and by impeding the investigation.

Keel could not be reached for comment Friday.

City Commissioner Mike Sparkman said Friday he had received a copy of Keel’s letter and welcomed an investigation from an outside agency.

“We need to get the air clear,” Sparkman said. “We need to get someone to come from the outside.”

The ethics commission and FDLE would look at the case to determine whether Keel as an elected official used his position to obtain a benefit for someone else, which is prohibited.

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.

 

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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