A former deputy fire chief in Boynton Beach is searching for answers after the city inexplicably altered a mural to replace the images of her and a colleague with white faces.
Latosha Clemons was the first black female deputy fire chief in the city’s history, but she feels betrayed after the city decided to erase the faces of her and Glenn Joseph, the city’s former chief, from a mural honoring Boynton Beach’s past.
“I was hurt, I was disappointed and then I was outraged,” Clemons said Wednesday from outside her lawyer’s office in West Palm Beach.
Nicole Hunt Jackson said her client was “whitewashed on a wall that should have been representative of the city.”
City Manager Lori LaVerriere removed Matthew Petty as fire chief and fired Debby Coles-Dobay, the city’s public arts manager. Petty later resigned.
“The decision made to alter the artwork that was approved by the Public Arts Commission was wrong and disrespectful to our community,” LaVerriere said in a statement. “Every employee in the city of Boynton Beach works for its community. As a leader, I have been very clear that I will not tolerate any employee to be disrespectful, in any shape or form, to any members of our community.”
LaVerriere called the decisions “difficult but necessary.”
Mayor Steven Grant told WPTV what happened is inexcusable and “an example of racial inequality in the city.”
But Clemons and her attorney want to know who made the changes and why.
“Why were those two black faces removed from that mural?” Jackson said.
Coles-Dobay released a statement Wednesday saying she was “directed and pressured” by Petty and fire marshal Kathy Cline “for changes to be made,” calling them “major stakeholders in the project.”
Clemons said she hopes to see her face back on the mural.
“It just hurts,” she said.
Grant said the city is moving forward with the original design that will include the faces of Clemons and Joseph.