The Last Word | April 23, 2012
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those in favor to deny signify by saying aye. Opposed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aye.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Opposed?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Approved to deny the memorandum at this time.
O'DONNELL: In a shocking three to two vote today, the Sanford City Commission rejected the resignation of Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee . City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr . and Chief Lee had reached a separation agreement , but needed the city commission 's approval. Just one month ago, that same Sanford City Commission passed a vote of no confidence in that same police chief , Bill Lee , a three to two vote. Lee temporarily stepped down the next day, citing these concerns.
BILL LEE, FORMER SANFORD, FLORIDA, POLICE CHIEF: I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks.
O'DONNELL: Captain Darren Scott will remain as acting police chief . George Zimmerman was released on 150,000 dollars bond just after midnight today. That's early this morning. He is now fitted with an electronic monitoring device. Zimmerman is due back in court May 8th for his arraignment. Joining me now is Norton Bonaparte Jr ., city manager of Sanford , Florida . Mr. Bonaparte , could you take us through the steps of what happened today? You had reached an agreement of resignation with the police chief and then what did the city commission do?
NORTON BONAPARTE JR. SANFORD, FLORIDA, CITY MANAGER: Yes, the chief and I had come to an agreement , but that agreement need to have the city commission approval. While the chief serves at the pleasure of the city manager, the terms of the agreement would require the city to put out additional funds and additional resources that were not in his original contract. And therefore it was important to get the commission approval of that. What the commission decided to do was not approve the severance agreement . Therefore the resignation of the chief was not accepted.
O'DONNELL: So I guess what I'm hearing is that there was some kind of severance package in this agreement that you had with the police chief ?
BONAPARTE: That is correct, and that's what was required to have the city commission approval.
O'DONNELL: How much money was that?
BONAPARTE: It was about 54,000 dollars, all told.
O'DONNELL: So how do we interpret this vote? Was it a vote against 54,000 dollars? Was it suddenly a vote of confidence in a police chief where this same police commission voted no confidence?
BONAPARTE: I think it was neither. What I heard at the meeting was some members of the commission wanting to go through the process and see what an independent investigation would show. Did the chief do something wrong? Did he not do things he should have done? That's something that we've been asking for some time. I came to the realization that with the ongoing criminal investigation , it was going to be difficult for a criminal -- for the city to get answers to those questions because of the evidence. The evidence is still going to be tied up until the trial. And therefore I thought, working with the chief, we could move forward by having this separation agreement .
O'DONNELL: And so is the chief currently being paid his full salary?
BONAPARTE: Yes, he is. He's on paid administrative leave.
O'DONNELL: So that's the most expensive possible outcome here, is that you end up paying this chief for a couple of years during this criminal process that's going on in the Zimmerman case.
BONAPARTE: That's the challenge. I don't think it will be a couple of years. I think we should be able to have something within maybe three or four months, but I think that was a long time to keep everything on hold. And that's why the chief and I had made the agreement to go ahead and to separate.
O'DONNELL: And what happened to fiscal responsibility in this city commission ? It seems to me just in a fiscal matter that you arrived at what is probably the best dollar and cents outcome for this city?
BONAPARTE: The city commission spoke. They were willing to wait for the results of an investigation. We'll move forward. We're getting an investigation done.
O'DONNELL: Is it conceivable to you that Chief Bill Lee could ever function credibly as the chief of police in Sanford again?
BONAPARTE: I think with the city commission saying that they had a vote of no confidence of three to two, that that would be the challenge. That was part of the decision of me talking with the chief and saying, it's time to move on . If the commission wants to change that, then I think that's a different outcome.
O'DONNELL: On the three to two vote today, was one of those votes someone who voted no confidence in the chief?
BONAPARTE: Yes. That was the Mayor Triplett .
O'DONNELL: Norton Bonaparte , another amazingly strange day in the functioning of your city. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
BONAPARTE: Thank you.
O'DONNELL: Joining me now is Charles M. Blow , opinion writer for " the New York Times. " Charles , this is as strange as it gets in that town, politically. I just can't fathom this thing.
CHARLES M. BLOW, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You say strange. I say this is a joke. I mean this is like Real City Officials of Sanford , Florida . It's like a sitcom or something. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. You can't say, on the one hand, that you vote no confidence and ask the police chief , Bill Lee , to step down and willing to pay him to step down, which I wish I had that job, where you could just not get work and get paid your full salary, and then turn around and say, we need to wait for the investigation to be completed in order to accept a resignation that will actually save the city of Sanford money. Those two things just don't go together. Either you should have waited for the investigation to be completed in order to vote for -- take a vote of no confidence , or you had enough to believe that that police chief was not capable of doing that job, which is what they said when they voted no confidence, and be willing to say, we are willing, as a city, to move forward from this episode with a new management in charge of our police force . The fact that they are saying these two competing things is absolutely ridiculous.
O'DONNELL: You know, my sense of Norton Bonaparte , from the first time he appeared on this program, is that he really is a city manager. He really is trying to manage things in a very, very difficult situation. He seems to do things patiently, carefully, but things that make sense . This outcome he was trying to achieve makes perfect sense . And then when you take it to the city commission , you find once again one of these demonstrations about what a strange town Sanford can be.
BLOW: Lawrence , you're asking for something to make sense out of this situation. I mean, this whole thing has never made sense . I think that's probably the reason we've been talking about it for so long. The case doesn't make sense . The behavior of the police doesn't really make sense . The way that they treated George Zimmerman , taking him into that police station , from what we saw from videotape, leaning against walls, rubbing your feet on the mat when you walk through the door, none of that makes sense . The idea that he shot and killed a 17-year-old boy who was unarmed, was able to talk his way out of that police precinct that night, doesn't quite make sense . I'm not sure that that police department is capable of making sense . And what happened today was that the city commission , and in particular the mayor of Sanford , Florida , basically became the contradiction that the police department of Sanford is by voting no confidence in the beginning and then saying, I refuse to let him go; I'm not ready to do that; I'm just ready to pay him, until the trial is over or until the investigation is over, which makes no sense .
O'DONNELL: Well, that is a perfect summary of where we stand. Charles M. Blow , thank you very much for joining us tonight.
O'DONNELL: Coming up, Hugh Hefner says the Republicans are waging a war against sex. And Hugh Hefner says we may have to refight the battles for sexual privacy that he helped win in the 1960s . And next, Jon Huntsman tries to Rewrite Jon Huntsman . He compared the Republican party to the Chinese Communist party and then tried to kind of maybe change those words. But videotape -- we have the video. That's coming up next.
O'DONNELL: Tonight, Jon Huntsman Rewrites Jon Huntsman . The former two-term Republican