BONIFAY - A Bonifay resident has filed an official complaint with the State of Florida Commission on Ethics that alleges the City - specifically Mayor James "Eddie" Sims - has neglected to investigate a municipal water leak affecting his property and has violated his civil rights by banning him from City Hall.
Chad Harrison says he has been complaining about issues at his Creswell Street home since 2013.
Harrison states the problem began in 2013 when the City of Bonifay installed new municipal waterlines.
"When they installed the new waterlines, gallons of water started coming out of the ground at my house because of what I suspect was a leak from an old line," said Harrison. "After years of ignoring my complaints, the City finally fixed or redirected whatever it was in 2017, but the excess water had already caused thousands of dollars of damage to my home."
"[Mayor Sims] has consistently ignored the possibility of a municipal water leak and refused to have an investigation conducted to find the source of the water after numerous complaints," read the complaint filed with the state last week. "This was a major wet spot, with water often coming out of the ground, causing significant damage and flooding to my neighborhood. He has put several families in Bonifay in harm’s way, with no regard to property damage, serious health or bodily harm, and even the possibility of death."
The City of Bonifay reports no other residents in that neighborhood have lodged similar complaints, and an insurance claim filed with the City's insurance company by Harrison in 2013 was denied.
Harrison met with Sims in July 2017 and advised the mayor that he had documentation proving the City water system had caused damage to his property.
Mayor Sims states he asked Harrison to bring the documentation, but he failed to do so,
The City agreed to allow Harrison to filed a second insurance claim. The insurance company reports that claim was denied due to no documentation being provided.
Harrison states the documentation was provided to the insurance company through several different methods.
The complaint goes on to allege the Mayor "actively encourages a failure to make any information available to the public from City Hall," stating that multiple public records requests made by Harrison have gone ignored or refused.
"Mr. Harrison's requests for public records have not been ignored," said City Clerk Beverly Gilley. "Mr. Harrison requested a large volume of records at one time, which would require several hours of labor to research and copy. On the advice of City Attorney Michelle Jordan, we responded to his request and advised the cost associated with his request would be $972.80, which included 53 hours of labor and 1,442 copies."
The Mayor filed a trespass paper against Harrison in November, banning him from City Hall when City employees said they felt threatened by Harrison after he was "visibly shaking, angry, and gritting his teeth" while he was following up on his public records requests. The Mayor states he received a call from a concerned official who said Harrison made comments that he would "get his vengeance against the City of Bonifay."
Harrison denies the behavior or having ever made threatening statements and says the ban violates his civil rights.
"I've never been anything but respectful to the City, even after the Mayor told me to get a lawyer if I wanted to talk about the issue anymore with them," he said.
"This trespass warning is in effect for five years and effectively bans me from attending any city council meeting, voting in any city election, or even simply paying my monthly water/sewer/garbage bill, which can’t be paid online due to lack of website technology."
Bonifay City Attorney Michelle Jordan states Harrison is not banned from City Council meetings, just from City Hall offices.
"[A Bonifay Police official] told me I would be arrested if I attended a City Council meeting, so I'm not taking any chances," said Harrison. "Also, I tried to obtain the police report, only to ultimately discover there was never any official police report filed corresponding with the trespass."
Harrison states he intends to file similar complaints with the state against City Clerk Beverly Gilley, Public Works Supervisor Jack Marell, and council members Roger Brooks and Larry White.