A new measure before the city council seeks to remove two Muslim board of adjustment members – Montaha Deeb and Aheya Khan – for missing meetings as they boycotted to protest alleged racial prejudice against themselves and applicants.
“There’s been sufficient economic harm done to the city. I see no other option but to remove those members,” said council president William McKoy. “The members continue to be defiant of the council; the public comments and poor attendance call for something to be done. I see no reason why we should allow these two individuals to continue to hold the city hostage for their inability to solve problems and get along with their colleague.”
The resolution states members can be removed for cause and on the ground of non-attendance. A member may be removed if he misses three or more consecutive meetings. In this case, Khan and Deeb have missed almost a year of meeting as a result of their boycotting meetings for alleged racial prejudice.
Khan, Deeb, and Alaur Khondokar accused members Gerald Thaxton and Geraldine Rayfield of racial prejudice. The three Muslim members also alleged board members asked applicants with Islamic names questions about projects that were irrelevant and had racial overtones.
Khondokar and Rayfield are no longer on the board. Their terms expired earlier in the month and were not re-appointed.
“Rather than address the issue completely, you are looking to punish the folks who brought the situation to your attention, which is in direct contrast to protected speech and the Whistleblower Protection Act,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, who opposes the precipitous removal of the board members.
Morris said the council should complete the hearings it began in March, but failed to finish.
“Let’s complete the hearings,” added Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Morris said the boycott came about due to the council’s failure to investigate when the issue was first brought to its attention behind the scenes. The council began its hearings after Khan attended a council meeting and publicly implored council members to resolve the problem that crippled a body considered vital to the economic development of the city.
When asked shouldn’t the council take some responsibility for the boycott and the dysfunction at the board due to its initial inaction, McKoy responded: “Absolutely not.”
“They had a duty to resolve this, now they are taking the easy way out,” said Khan when told of the resolution pending before the council. “What was the purpose of those hearings? An election stunt.”
McKoy said it would be “pointless” to restart the hearings. The council held two hearings in March and April. It interviewed Khan and Rayfield. Since those hearings, two new council members – Shahin Khalique and Luis Velez – have joined the council.
Both of the new council members will have to read through transcripts and review various records presented to the council if the council president decides to restart the hearings.
Khan thought it unjust to remove some members and keep others. “That is unfair,” he said mentioning Thaxton. “If you want to remove — remove everyone that’s in the problem.”
Morris said the removal of members in a case like this could open the city up for lawsuits.
There’s also a mystery surrounding who requested the legal department to prepare the resolution, said Morris and Sayegh.
“I don’t know who put the resolution forward. I can’t seem to find that out,” said Morris. The resolution is listed under the label of “City Council” on the agenda without any sponsors.
McKoy suggested it does not matter who requested the resolution. “We have to evaluate the matter and vote up or down that’s the pertinent part,” he said.
Dominick Stampone, who heads the law department which prepares resolutions, did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
“After the conclusion of the investigation if the commissioners decide not to attend the meetings then you can go on and take an action for removal,” said Morris. He said taking actions while the council’s inquiry is unfinished is almost retaliatory against the two members for bringing the situation to the council’s attention.
The council will consider the resolution at the regular meeting of July 26th, 2016.