Steve Van Gorden vows to stand up for himself
By B.C. Manion
An impeachment hearing is expected in early January to determine whether the Zephyrhills City Council should remove Mayor Steve Van Gorden from office, or take any other action against him.
Council members voted 4-1 on Nov. 26 to proceed with an impeachment hearing. Jodi Wilkeson was the sole dissenter.
Wilkeson said she did not want to play the role of the morality police because it’s not her nature.
“If there’s a group that feels so strongly that Mr. Van Gorden should not be in office, then I ask them to step forward and start the process of a recall election,” Wilkeson said.
She spoke against an impeachment proceeding, suggesting instead a resolution to censure Van Gorden.
“I loathe this idea of an impeachment process,” Wilkeson said, noting she’s concerned about it becoming a media circus.
Van Gorden resigned from his post as principal of Zephyrhills High on Nov. 2 amidst an investigation by Pasco County Schools into allegations of sexual harassment.
The school board accepted Van Gorden’s resignation on Nov. 6 without comment, after which the district released a 346-page investigative file.
Since the release of that file, Lance Smith, vice president of the Zephyrhills City Council said, “I’ve had many people come to me and say that they thought Steve should go.”
Councilman Charles Proctor suggested the city proceed with an impeachment hearing.
“This is tough decision for us,” Proctor said. “I’m not judging you. I like you. I think you’re a decent man,” he told Van Gorden.
Proctor also told the mayor that an impeachment hearing could provide a good forum for the mayor.
“This could be a moment for you to clear yourself,” he told Van Gorden.
Councilman Ken Burgess agreed: “Maybe it’s a chance to exonerate himself.”
Council president Kenneth Compton said a hearing provides an opportunity for all sides to be heard.
“I do think the matter needs to be squarely addressed,” Compton said.
After the hearing, the council can decide what, if any action, it wishes to take, Compton said.
“The options are all on the table,” Compton said.
City attorney Joseph Poblick told council members, “The impeachment process is not a pretty process and should not be taken lightly.”
He told them that they will have to hire an outside attorney for the impeachment proceeding.
Poblick also said the city will not be able to rely on the investigative file prepared by the school district. He characterized the information in that file as “hearsay.”
“The hearing would require the city to present evidence,” Poblick said. “Witnesses would have to be called.”
A vote to impeach Van Gorden would require support of at least four of the five council members, Poblick said.
Van Gorden has acknowledged that he made mistakes. But he told council members that the full story has not been told.
He said his statement and statements from others interviewed by school district personnel are not contained in the file the district released.
“To be very honest with you, if I had to do it over again, I would not resign from Zephyrhills High School,” Van Gorden said.
He said he plans to seek an attorney to represent him.
“The bottom line is that this is not done. I will stand up for myself,” Van Gorden told council members.
He had no additional comment following the council’s meeting.