A report accuses elected official of engaging in a ‘pattern of bullying’

A town-commissioned investigation into an elected official’s behavior has wrapped up, concluding that Pembroke Park Commissioner Geoffrey Jacobs engaged in a “pattern of bullying, threatening harm, intimidation, public humiliation and retaliation.”

But it’s unclear what, if anything, will result from the conclusions detailed in a 17-page report. The investigation, sought by the town, was conducted by a private attorney. The inquiry, which cost taxpayers $19,000, centered on the alleged behavior of Jacobs at public meetings, town events, at Town Hall and his social media postings.

Michael Pizzi, the attorney for Jacobs, called it a “political witch hunt.” He said Jacobs was reelected earlier this year, and “it’s not up to the mayor and his political opponents to overturn democracy.”

Tonja Haddad Coleman, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney who specializes in labor and employment law, wrote in her report that witnesses accused him of a “hostile, volatile, toxic workplace,” and she found evidence “of foul and wholly inappropriate language, racial and ethnic slurs, abuse of power, and antisemitic, chauvinistic, homophobic, misogynistic, demeaning, and degrading commentary.”

The report doesn’t make any suggestions on what the town should do, other than to say some of the allegations “may warrant further investigation.”

Jacobs has repeatedly argued that he is the one at Town Hall trying to root out the problems. And the report also notes “Commissioner Jacobs claims, both in his social media and at commission meetings, that he has First Amendment rights that justify and protect his commentary and behavior.”

Jacobs declined to participate in the attorney’s probe, and was not interviewed.

Among the findings, based on interviews:

  • Former Town Attorney Melissa Anderson reported that anyone “who got in his way of creating a police department on town staff got run over by Jacobs.” He was accused of referring to her as a pit bull that should be “put down.”
  • Jacobs cursed at Town Clerk Marlen Martell, called her a “rat,” and threatened to have her fired when she disagreed with him or told him that she could not do some of the things he asked.
  • Babette Friedman, the former director of Human Resources, said that the town received eight formal complaints against Jacobs, and relayed that employees come into her office crying over how Jacobs treats them.” Friedman, who previously accused Jacobs of calling her a Nazi, has since resigned.
  • When the town manager told Jacobs that HR was receiving complaints and could result in liability, Jacobs reportedly called him “absolutely worthless as a town manager.” The manager, Juan Carlos “J.C.” Jimenez, has since given his notice after receiving an offer to be city manager for the city of Miami Springs.
  • Former Assistant Public Services Director Myriam Jacques resigned after Jacobs drafted a letter of termination and showed it to her, “just to let her know it existed.”

In April, the town approved the investigation about Jacobs’ alleged behavior. Jacobs was also formally censured by his colleagues after an allegation that his “conduct and behavior” toward commissioners and staff “is unacceptable.”

But now they aren’t sure what exactly happens next.

Commissioner Bill Hodgkins has previously said he would take the report and get it to the governor’s office. This week he said he was still committed to action: “It will go to a high authority to see if we cannot get some results and take care of the problem once and for all.”

Outgoing Town Manager Jimenez called it “unchartered territory.”

“What do you do to another elected official?” he asked. “It’s not like you can go to the employee handbook and terminate him.”

Said Mayor Ashira Mohammed: “I’m not sure what we can and can’t do. People come to work to do a job. They don’t come to be harassed. It’s not fair to the employees. That’s my biggest concern: How do we heal and move forward? We’re going to lose more people with this behavior, we’re not going to be able to retain.”

Jacobs referred questions to his lawyer, who said his client questions the legitimacy of the investigation, which had been requested by “political opponents.”

“People whose performance he’s questioned are spending taxpayer money to hire an attorney,” he said. He called the report’s finding “sensational.”

“Who are they to hire a private attorney with direction to investigate him? He was elected by the people,” Pizzi said.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sunsentinel.com. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash

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