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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Dunnellon councilwoman resigns amidst ‘disrespect’ from mayor to citizens

A Dunnellon councilwoman resigned last week after citing the mayor’s “offensive” and “unwarranted” comments towards citizens who spoke on public record during their meeting.

On Wednesday, August 16, Jan Cubbage resigned from seat 5 of the Dunnellon City Council. Cubbage, whose term began in November 2020, cited Mayor Wally Dunn’s comments during the council’s meeting that evening as the main reason behind her departure.

“I’m going to resign for this council, not because of your decision tonight, but because our mayor violated our code of ethics,” said Cubbage. She went on to suggest that each council member must demonstrate a “significant amount of respect” for every person that attends meetings, and that Dunn had failed to do so.

“I believe that, Wally Dunn’s voice, his attitude, his offensive remarks, are totally unacceptable and unwarranted. Very much unwarranted,” said Cubbage. “My kind of people are kind people.”

Cubbage stated that, although she and other citizens have disagreed with the mayor’s decisions in the past, she believed the mayor went to far in defending his position.

“The public’s going to agree with him or not agree with him, but to address those people the way he did tonight, I can’t sit here any longer,” said Cubbage. “I watched the faces of those people, as they were getting up and leaving. I saw anger and I saw disbelief.”

Cubbage became emotional and apologized for what she perceived as “gross disrespect.” She stated that she would write a letter to those she felt Dunn had offended, and that she would continue working on behalf of Dunnellon residents other ways than “sitting as a councilwoman.”

In an official resignation letter sent to city staff on August 17, Cubbage thanked them for their dedication to the city and mentioned that she had said all she needed to during the prior night’s meeting.

“I have nothing to say that I did not say at last evening’ s meeting. Kind people are my kind of people,” said Cubbage. “For a small town, [the City of Dunnellon] has an incredible, efficient, and dedicated administrative staff.”

Cubbage’s resignation came after a heated discussion among the council regarding a letter of support for state funding in acquiring Nine Island Cove, a 49-acre park that encompasses wetlands along the Withlacoochee River.

The issue first came before the city council years ago, when former Mayor Bill White was at the helm of the council. A letter, which current Vice Mayor Tim Inskeep cited during the meeting, was sent in 2021 by the council that seemingly committed the city to managing the property.

Cubbage disputed the authority of the letter, saying that it was originally a collection of ideas put forth by the Rainbow River Council (RRC). She argued that the city was not bound to the specifications and conditions put forth in the old letter, and that the new letter would not bind the city to the management of the park.

After multiple residents shared their comments in support of moving forward with Dunnellon’s commitment to the property, Inskeep and Mayor Dunn offered drastically different takes on the property and the city’s current responsibilities.

“Why is Nine Island Cove property now all of a sudden a top priority of RRC?” asked Dunn. He suggested that “most Dunnellon residents don’t care much” about the property, and that they were more concerned with infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, the Dunnellon residents are very upset about the conditions of their roads and streets,” said Dunn, who was a part of the original group that sent the letter in support of the city’s acquisition. Dunn says that at the time, the property was only supposed to be considered when state funds were made available to purchase the property.

“We were told at that time that the city would not need to fund anything,” said Dunn.

Dunn took issue with the characterization that the new letter would not bind the city to any financial commitment. He argued that the area is largely unusable and that no other outside developers had shown any interest in the property.

“The city of Dunnellon has no funds available to purchase this property, so why the rush now?” asked Dunn. “Dunnellon might have the funding in the future, but it doesn’t have it now. The city can’t afford an obligation to take on more management responsibilities at this time.”

Dunn went on to compare the new property to Blue Run Park, which is currently under the city’s management. Dunn said that the city had done a “very poor job” of managing that park, as well as the city’s beach and boat ramp.

“Now we want to add another 49 acres? I don’t see how that will happen,” said Dunn. He went on to suggest that the biggest issue was cost.

“The city has been told many times since 2007 that Blue Run Park is a passive park and will not cost the city anything,” said Dunn, before citing a $210,000 project to build a bathroom at the park.

“Blue Run Park was not free, and the cost in the future going forward will not be free,” said Dunn. Dunn expressed confusion in what direction the council wanted to take with the property, saying he’d heard multiple suggestions over the past week that were all different.

“I think this thing ought to be tabled, everybody sit down and get their ducks in a row, and bring this council something that makes sense,” said Dunn. He closed his remarks by suggesting that the members of the RRC should not have a say in the direction of the property.

“Most of the members of the RRC don’t live in Dunnellon, and I’m getting tired of y’all telling us how to run this town. Sorry,” said Dunn.

After the discussion, council members voted 4 to 1 against sending the letter of support.

To read the letter in its entirety, visit the City of Dunnellon website.