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Oakland’s Outrage

Updated: Apr 12

Sal Ramos rejoins town commission sparking residents’ anger, allegations of commissioners’ collusion and a recall drive.

Sal Ramos at town commission
Oakland Commissioner Sal Ramos, moments after being sworn in on April 9, 2024. He promised transparency, communication and to work with Mayor Shane Taylor. Photo: Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli

Shock, fury, frustration and allegations of collusion flooded Oakland’s Meeting Hall Tuesday after three commissioners each nominated former Commissioner Sal Ramos to fill the open Seat 3 that he had vacated to run unsuccessfully for mayor in the March 19 election. The nomination followed an interview process for 12 residents who had all applied to be considered for the seat. 

Ramos was swiftly sworn in. 

The move triggered an immediate recall petition drive to oust Ramos as well as those who nominated him: Vice Mayor Mike Satterfield and Commissioners Rick Polland and Joseph McMullen.

“It was obvious a decision had already been made before they entered the building,” said Shaun Fulton, an IT specialist who runs the Facebook group Oakland Residents Voice after the meeting. He said that compared with other applicants’ answers to questions, he found Ramos’ responses “vague and relied mainly on history. There was nothing new or refreshing.” For commissioners to instantly nominate him, Fulton said, “was a joke.” 

Speaking during the commission meeting's public comment period, Scott Gordon, one of the applicants, summed up what many residents were feeling.

"I said that I thought that everybody had the best interests of Oakland at heart. And I truly did believe that. But what I saw this evening, I saw the sitting vice mayor and two commissioners with complete and utter disregard for the voice of the community. We just had an election that was historic for the town. Mayor Taylor did not just win. He won by a landslide. It was a clear message from the Town of Oakland that we are ready for a change. What I saw this evening really disheartens me because it shows that you three have utter disrespect for not only the town but the residents."

Scott Gordon at commission meeting
Scott Gordon, U.S. Marine Corps. veteran and Seat 3 applicant to Cmrs. Satterfield, Polland and McMullen: "What I saw this evening really disheartens me because it shows that you three have utter disrespect for not only the town but the residents."

The nominations were made during a 6 p.m. workshop ahead of Oakland’s regular 7 p.m. commission meeting. The workshop was intended for commissioners to evaluate the 12 residents who had filled out applications to be considered for the commission seat and then select one to fill Seat 3. 

Commissioners typically fill commission vacancies with their own nominations, confirmed by majority vote of the board — both Ramos and Polland had been commission appointees before they were elected to office. The application procedure was Mayor Shane Taylor’s novel method to create a more “equitable process” and attract “community-focused leadership,” as VoxPopuli previously reported, for an open commission seat that no one ran for during the election. Thirteen residents applied; one withdrew before the workshop; one did not meet the 12-month residency requirement.  

During the workshop, applicants fished slips of paper out of a bowl that contained questions, ranging from identifying top priorities to handling budget issues to managing conflict. Each applicant had three minutes to respond to a single question. The commissioners scored each applicant according to a matrix Taylor developed. The scoring system and judging criteria were not disclosed. After they’d heard from every applicant, Taylor opened the floor to debate. 

Without any discussion, McMullen, Polland and Satterfield, one right after the other, nominated Ramos. 

Three Oakland commissioners nominate Sal Ramos to his former seat on April 9, 2024. Commissioners Polland and McMullen deny working together to return Ramos to the commission. Video: Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli

Gasps and murmurs of “No!” could be heard throughout the crowded room. 

For residents clamoring for the kind of change they expected to see after electing Taylor to office with 65 percent of vote — Taylor won 756 votes to Ramos’ 416 — it was, said one, a “slap in the face.” Others expressed “disgust,” "shock" and decried the nomination process as “rigged.”

One resident, who did not want to be identified, was so angered, she no longer wants to live in Oakland. "I want to leave the town. I don’t even want to stay here anymore. I am disgusted with how [the commissioners] handled this."

“There were some really good applicants tonight that they completely ignored,” resident Kevin Cox told VoxPopuli. 

Taylor nominated litigation attorney Yumeko Motley. According to her application, she is a graduate of Florida A&M College of Law and a founding board member for HBCU I.M.P.A.C.T., which works to bring Black professionals into the legal, insurance and financial services fields. He declined to comment following the nominations. 

In the brief break between the workshop and commission meeting Cox sought out McMullen, in the center of a tight knot of residents. 

“I think it’s very clear that we want change in the government in the town of Oakland, and instead you guys, none of you listened to that at all. You reverted back to the way it was,” Cox told him.

Cox, who said he opposes four-story apartments and dredging on Lake Apopka, told McMullen he would have liked residents to have been able to speak before the nomination process. Workshops don’t allow for public comment.

Jill Cox, married to Kevin, who spoke later during the commission meeting, indicated she wants to see term limits and "people who live in Oakland and not at their second home" addressed. This was a reference to Satterfield who reportedly spends much of his time in Satellite Beach.  

“The majority of residents want something different and you’re not representing us,” Cox said.  

McMullen said he understood the election, but hadn’t heard that residents were displeased with the commission. “Has anyone ever come to me or to us and said We don’t like what you’ guys are doing? No one has ever said that to me.” 

“Did you do the matrix and think he [Ramos] was the top of the matrix?” demanded another resident, referring to the rubric Taylor created to score each of the applicants for their suitability to be commissioner. 

“Yes, I did,” McMullen replied. He told VoxPopuli he thought Ramos was the best one for the job. “Friendship was not on the ballot,” he said. 

VoxPopuli made a public records request for the commissioners’ scoring sheets. 

Asked directly if the three commissioners had worked together to reinstall Ramos on the commission, McMullen exclaimed, "That's illegal!" Polland, who VoxPopuli spoke with ahead of the workshop, denied working with Satterfield to reinstall Ramos on the commission. “I’m not working with anyone,” he said. “I’m working with myself.” 

Upwards of 25 residents signed recall petitions before the end of the night, according to Anne Fulton, who is spear-heading the recall drive. Fulton, who had applied for the Seat 3 position herself, came to the meeting with petitions in her bag to be ready if the commissioners nominated Ramos. 

“One of my favorite mottos is Hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” Fulton later told VoxPopuli via text. “I think it’s important to replace the current commission because, through a variety of actions, they’ve shown they’re not ready for the change that the town wants and needs.” 

Still, Ramos was not without supporters in the room. Some touted his 35 percent of the mayoral vote. Others said a new mayor was all the change they voted for. 

“The mayor was the mayor for 20 years, that’s what we changed. That was the difference,” said resident Lou Comtois, adding that the commissioners “are the ones who made this town what it is today."

“If you moved into this town in the last 20 years,” he continued, “it’s because of these people right here. That’s why everybody lives in Oakland. They love Oakland. These commissioners are responsible.” 

Kurt Gies at meeting
Kurt Gies, U.S. Navy veteran, offers calming words during the fraught town commission meeting, April 9, 2024. Video still: Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli

Once the commission meeting started and Taylor called for public comment, Kurt Gies — one of many — stepped up to the podium. He said he was a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and had fought for democracy. “Though democracy is not perfect and can be messy at times, I believe the rules were followed here,” he said. 

Gies noted the men at the table had “served the town for years when nobody would come to these meetings.” He listed the commission’s accomplishments, what he described as its “legacy”: a town development plan, the West Orange Trail, Oakland Avenue Charter School, a waste-water treatment plant.  

“The bottom line,” he said, “is everybody wants to live here and those who are new to the community moved here because of what the folks actually put in place.” 

Gies urged people who wanted changes to the development plan, to institute term limits to educate themselves, use the process, join committees and “shape it so it matches your needs.” 

“Sal was not completely run off the field in this election,” Gies said. “Over 35 percent of the people in this town wanted him as our mayor, so there’s a big faction of our community that supports what he did.” Then he spoke directly to Taylor, explaining that while he hadn’t voted for him, “I support you because you are now our mayor. And whatever you need from us, let us know and we’ll come.” 

Gies’ words were met with applause. 

Satterfield, fresh off a commission vote to retain him as vice mayor, acknowledged to attendees that “we need to work probably a little bit harder.” He said, “We can make more workshops, more committees.” He said all of the applicants “deserve to be, at some point in time a commission member.” He implored residents “to get involved and stay involved.”  

“Everyone is here, believe it or not, to try to do the right thing,” Satterfield said. “There is no ulterior motives to any of this except to try to make this a better place for all of us to live.” 

Ramos pledged to work with Taylor. “I lost, but I’ll come alongside you,” he said after being sworn in. “I promise to work with you, with all the board. I’m not here to sabotage nothing because that would be hurting the town that I love. I’m working for the town.” 

Then he turned to look at the attendees. “I’m going to work for every one of you guys, transparency and communicating,” he said. Then he turned back to the table where Taylor and the commissioners were sitting. “Anything you need, Shane, I’ll work alongside you. That’s a promise.” 


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