Panama City Beach councilman Keith Curry faces serious allegations from several city employees.
The allegations stem from a party at a beach restaurant in December 2012, when Curry and several city employees who played softball together were celebrating the end of their season. "There was an uncomfortable situation between a couple of employees and Councilman Curry," said Mario Gisbert, City Manager. Gisbert declined to name the employees involved in the alleged incident.
Gisbert wasn't at the party, but said employees reported that Curry used the "N" word in the presence of African-American employees and made other comments that offended a white female employee.
"We don't want our city employees to be uncomfortable," said Mayor Gayle Oberst. "The job of the city council is to make policy and not to interact with our employees."
Gisbert said he and department supervisors met with the employees as soon as he learned of the alleged incident and advised them of their right to file a formal complaint. "If they want to file a complaint, they're welcome to file a complaint... but if they also don't want to file a complaint, they're welcome to do that," said Gisbert. "Their request was for this… to go away."
No complaint was filed, but the alleged incident became a matter of public record when the mayor and Councilman Rick Russell sent e-mails instructing the city manager to consult with the city attorney and resolve any lingering concerns. "I want them to be treated fairly and to know that they are judged on their work and not on their interaction with any of us," said Oberst.
Gisbert said subsequent talk and Facebook posts made him realize that the issue had not gone away, and he again met with the employees.
The female employee told the city manager she didn't want to pursue the matter. "She didn't feel it was that big a deal... it was uncomfortable but not that big a deal," said Gisbert.
But one of the male employees told Gisbert he wanted Curry to apologize. The councilman, employee and city manager met Monday morning and Gisbert said Curry apologized for the incident. "When we left the meeting, the two gentlemen looked at each other and said the issue is closed," said Gisbert.
Mayor Oberst said the city handled the situation in a timely and proper manner and she doesn't think it will become an issue for the full council to discuss, although that could happen. "If the council felt strongly about it and felt that this was needed, the council could sanction [Curry]," she said. "I don't think that we're into that stage at all."
Contacted by phone Monday afternoon, Curry denied the allegations but declined to discuss the matter on the advice of his attorney.