Bradenton Housing Authority removes ‘no weapons’ policy; commissioner resigns

Judith Heston, right, former Bradenton Housing Authority commissioner submitted her resignation, claiming unprofessional behavior in agency leadership. File photo
Judith Heston, right, former Bradenton Housing Authority commissioner submitted her resignation, claiming unprofessional behavior in agency leadership. File photo myoung@bradenton.com

A little more than a month after Bradenton Housing Authority Executive Director Ellis Mitchell Jr. implemented a “no weapons” policy at all BHA facilities, it has been removed.

Under intense pressure from gun-rights groups and threats of litigation from Florida Carry, Mitchell suspended the policy in mid-May just days after the vote and sent it to the agency’s attorney for review. Mitchell said Monday the policy has been removed from from the agency’s personnel policies manual.

Mitchell said the policy was never meant to be geared toward the general public, something nonprofit firearm rights group Florida Carry said is unconstitutional.

However, the policy did state signs would be posted on the agency’s offices in the 2000 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard East. The policy included the possibility of people being subjected to a metal detector scan.

“Yes, there were discussions about it, but no policy was ever drafted, no signs were ever posted and no one from the public was ever denied access to any of our facilities as a result of carrying a weapon,” said Mitchell.

While the policy has been scuttled, it isn’t enough for Judith Heston, a newly appointed board member who resigned last month. Heston acknowledged she voted in favor of the policy, however, she said in her resignation letter she had not been given enough information to make an informed decision.

“There were so many pieces missing from the very beginning,” she wrote.

Heston went on to accuse Mitchell of trying to avoid the press in presenting the policy to the board.

“When this elaboration was brought to light, it was presented to us outside the scope of a regularly scheduled meeting with all commissioners and yourself present,” Heston wrote. “This, as you know, was in violation of the Sunshine Law.”

Mitchell said he forgot to mention the weapons ban to the board during an April meeting, but he said he did not violate the Sunshine Law.

“I did not see see this as being a violation of the Sunshine Law as the board was assembling for the nonprofit board meeting directly following the (BHA) board meeting on the same day.”

While accusing Mitchell of avoiding the press, Heston admits she had concerns about the vote but didn’t want to say anything in the presence of the media.

“I do not trust the press in matters such as this,” she wrote. “As it was, you see what happened when the press published the information.”

Commissioner vehicles towed

The final straw for Heston was when she and other commissioners attended a training seminar in Tampa. The commissioners left vehicles at BHA offices and returned from training to find two had been towed.

“The unprofessional manner as to why our cars were towed while the commissioners were attending training. ... was a poor decision,” said Heston.

Mitchell took responsibility for the mishap, calling it an accident.

“Because the commissioners were new to the board, I and my staff had never seen their car and was unaware that the cars belonged to the two commissioners,” Mitchell said. “Had the commissioners contacted me to let me know that they left their cars, the cars would not have been towed.”

Mitchell said no fees were associated with the towing and it took about 30 minutes to resolve the issue after “discovering the error.”