Fla. fire chief removed after public mural replaces black past chiefs with white faces

The city's public arts manager was also fired after images of the city's first black female firefighter and deputy chief and past chief were replaced


Emily Sullivan
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

BOYNTON BEACH — After a public art project based on photographs replaced the images of two black former department chiefs with white faces, City Manager Lori LaVerriere removed Matthew Petty, the city's fire chief, and fired Debby Coles-Dobay, the city's public arts manager.

LaVerriere wrote in a Saturday statement that she "concluded a preliminary investigation" and that "she will not tolerate any employee to be disrespectful, in any shape or form, to any members of our community."

A public mural in Boynton Beach replaced the faces of past Deputy Chief Latosha Clemons, the department's first black female firefighter and deputy chief, and past Fire Chief Glenn Joseph, who is also black, with white faces. (Photo/Observer-Dispatch)
A public mural in Boynton Beach replaced the faces of past Deputy Chief Latosha Clemons, the department's first black female firefighter and deputy chief, and past Fire Chief Glenn Joseph, who is also black, with white faces. (Photo/Observer-Dispatch)

The removals are effective immediately.

The mural, which the city unveiled this month, erased the image of Boynton-born and -raised Latosha Clemons, who was the city's first and only black female firefighter and deputy chief.

She scaled and led the department ranks for about 24 years until retiring effective March 1.

The mural also erased the face of Glenn Joseph, the city's former fire chief. He was the first black firefighter in Boca Raton's department.

Officials removed the public art project a day after it was unveiled.

"I'm hurt. I'm disappointed. I'm outraged," Clemons said Friday. "It's been my heart and soul and my lifeblood to serve in the community where I grew up ... this is beyond disrespect and I basically want to know why it happened."

LaVerriere wrote Thursday that "inappropriate" changes were made to the approved artwork plan and she said Friday that those changes "included modifying the images in the installation so that the individuals would not be specifically identifiable. It went way too far."

The city will install new art by June 15, according to LaVerriere.

The community flocked to respond to the art project's outcome and stood particularly behind Clemons.

"That's like a blow to everything that we stand for," Javaris "Big Jay" Russ said. "You could just erase my everything? My essence?"

He said when he saw what happened in the art project, he "almost threw up."

Lesha Roundtree, emphasized Clemons "made history" in Boynton and is "considered a hometown hero."

She said Thursday "there's really no excuse" for what happened.

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©2020 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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