Hallandale Beach fires city attorney; mayor walks out of divided meeting

City Attorney V. Lynn Whitfield gives emotional farewell

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The first City Commission meeting in Hallandale Beach since a contentious election didn't disappoint those expecting drama, coming complete with the firing of a top official, an emotional breakdown on the dais and the mayor storming out at the midway point.

"I will leave this meeting because I believe we are operating against our charter," Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper said as she walked off the dais, not to return.

At that point, the city's newly christened Vice Mayor Keith London walked over, grabbed the mayor's gavel and kept going.

It wasn't just a symbolic gesture. After this month's bitterly fought, big-money election, London is now the city's de facto leader, controlling a majority of votes on the commission.

London called the emergency meeting in order to fire not only City Attorney V. Lynn Whitfield, but also City Manager Daniel Rosemond, another of his longtime foes who was loyal to Cooper.

Cooper was the lone "no" vote against firing Whitfield, saying the move to fire Whitfield with cause -- and without a compensation package -- would lead to litigation that would cost taxpayers "an abundant amount of money."

"If you stand up to Commissioner London, you have a huge target on your back," Cooper said.

Voting to fire Whitfield were London and Commissioners Michele Lazarow and Anabelle Taub, the trio that now forms a majority bloc on the commission.

Taub beat longtime Commissioner Bill Julian in November, who was caught on audiotape agreeing to accept secret gifts from a developer before a vote.

Julian also admitted to agreeing to accept the gifts in a Local 10 News interview in a report that sparked an ongoing criminal investigation by the state attorney's office.

Whitfield was also caught on audiotape offering Julian campaign advice shortly after admitting that her city position did not allow her to give the commissioner such advice.

London offered that  tape -- along with the hiring of a recruitment company that London claimed was improper -- as causes to fire Whitfield, who broke down during her farewell speech.

Curiously, Whitfield said that her signature on the contract with that recruitment company was made by another lawyer and that she had no knowledge of it. London said that presented more problems, including possible forgery.

"I gave myself permission to be emotional today," she said before breaking down in tears. "To my friends on staff: We shared good times and rough times, but we will make it through it."

It was after that emotional speech that Cooper walked off the dais, saying that the firing left the commission without an attorney, in violation of the city charter.

But shortly after she walked out the door, London and his two allies immediately installed an interim city attorney, as well as outside counsel, and continued the meeting.

There was no vote on firing Rosemond after the outside counsel, Gray Robinson attorney Steven Zelkowitz, said the move required a resolution.

Rosemond did not attend the meeting, but his attorney, Freddy Perera, called the proceedings a "sham" and told the commission that Rosemond was prepared to engage in costly litigation should the commission go forward with firing the city manager with cause.

The commission voted to go forward with a resolution to fire Rosemond, but both parties left the door open to come up with a negotiated exit in the meantime.